Monday, January 31, 2011

Veri Soy Vegetarian Ham Roll

I really love this product! It adds a pretty good smokey, hammy flavor to foods. It's not really meant to be eaten alone like a Christmas ham, but works really well cubed and added to things. For this year's Holiday Dinner, we cubed up about half a roll and threw it into our Brussels sprouts dish. Delicious! I'm also a fan of throwing a little into some fried rice for flavor!

Now, this ham roll is a little tricky to find. There's not much information on it online, but I did a little digging. I found this at an Asian grocery store, where they have many products by Veri Soy. However, there is almost no online literature on the company! It turns out the parent company of Veri Soy is really an affiliate of VegeUSA. They sell vegetarian products under the names Vegetarian Plus (which I have found at Whole Foods) and Veri Soy (which is found at Asian markets), as well as just selling directly to food service. I'm willing to bet that most of their business is actually directly to food service, since it's almost impossible to find any information on their products!

So if you're in the market for a vegetarian ham roll, first check out your neighborhood Asian market. If it's not there, perhaps it can be found under one of the alternate names! ALSO (and this is very important if you are vegan), some versions of it contain egg whites, so remember to read the label to make sure you have the right one! If you're like me and love egg whites anyways, then either version would work ;-)

Vegan Hollandaise Sauce

We used this recipe of vegan Hollandaise Sauce, which we found from the book The Vegan Table for our 2010 Holiday Dinner as a side for our steamed asparagus and other vegetables. I've never been a fan of Hollandaise, but I'm glad I was able to offer a much healthier version of it to our guests!

Vegan Hollandaise Sauce
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsweetened nondairy milk, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chile powder or cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons (16g) cornstarch
2 tablespoons (28g) nondairy, nonhydrogenated butter (eg Earth Balance), melted
1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) fresh lemon

In a saucepan, heat 1/2 cup (120 ml) milk until hot but not quite simmering. Pour into a blender pitcher with salt and chile powder.

Using the same saucepan, combine remaining 1/4 cup (60ml) milk with cornstarch, and cook over low heat. The mixture will thicken very quickly. Stir constantly with a whisk. Add the melted nondairy butter, and keep whisking. This process will take no more than a couple of minutes.

Immediately add the thick constarch/butter mixture to blender containing milk/spice combination, and blend well before butter hardens. Drizzle in lemon juice, and continue to blend. It should be thick with no oil globules. Control lemon flavor by adding just a tablespoon (15ml), tasting it, and adding more if desired.

Hollandaise sauce is traditionally served warm, so if you're not serving it immediately, heat it briefly in a microwave or in a small-size pot over low heat when ready to serve.

Yield: 3/4 cup (180ml)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Garlic Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes

This recipe is based upon a side dish served at a brewery in Chicago. A group of us have gone a number of times, and always thought that the mashed potatoes were amazing. So one day I decided to try my hand at re-creating them. The results were wonderful--a very decadent and rich side dish that goes well with nearly anything! At the holiday party this year they were a runaway favorite--especially among the non-vegetarians present. This recipe is made vegan quite simply--just use Toffutti (or other vegan sub) cream cheese and sour cream, and earth balance (or other vegan sub) butter! Note that this recipe is really a "make it up as you go along" sort of event. The ratios are generally 1 tub cream cheese (8oz) per 2 pounds of potatoes, but everything can be easily adjusted to taste as you go. This recipe also scales up very easily.

Garlic Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes

2 lbs red potatoes, skins on, quartered
2 tbsp minced garlic (with a little oil)
1 tub (8oz) cream cheese
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp sour cream
1/4 tsp pepper (or to taste)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

Boil the potatoes until fork tender, about 10 minutes. While the potatoes are boiling, lightly saute the garlic in oil to release the flavor--do not brown. Remove from heat and add butter, cream cheese and sour cream to the pan. Mix the ingredients well until warmed--you may need to add the occasional heat to accomplish this. Transfer the contents of the pan to a mixing bowl/stand mixer bowl.

Drain the potatoes and add to the bowl. Add salt and pepper. Mash (or mix using paddle) the potatoes with the other ingredients until well combined. The potatoes should be fluffy and somewhat creamy. Do not over mix--there should still be a little texture. Add seasonings and "dairy" ingredients to taste.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Apricot Fig Chutney

I think the hardest thing about this recipe is chopping all the dried fruit before you start! Definitely just a straight-forward recipe, where you just throw everything into a pot and simmer unti it's chutney! You can also choose the consistency of your chutney by how large/small you chop the dried fruit and how long you simmer it. We chopped ours fairly small dice, but not as small as "mince"; we then simmered ours until all the dried fruit was softened with no resistance when bitten into.

Apricot Fig Chutney
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
3/4 cup dried figs, chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped OR 1 cup tart canned cherries
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized or preserved ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup water (up to 1 cup if needed)

Combine in saucepan, bring to boil, reduce to simmer for 25-45 minutes until thick stirring occasionally. More water may be needed to soften the dried apricots.

Vegan Bacon

I love this recipe! I could eat it every day for breakfast! We also found out it was good on our Fennel Spiced Flatbread recipe as well! It's a good, versatile sub for bacon. Careful, though! In order to get it really crispy, you have to slice the tofu very thinly and fry the heck out of it!

Tofu Bacon
1 package extra-firm tofu
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp tamari
2 tbsp Bragg's (optional; if no Bragg's, use 2 tbsp tamari)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp liquid smoke

Slice the tofu into 16 strips just under 1/4 inch thick. Place the oil in a frying pan, and lay the tofu strips in the pan. Cook the tofu for 10 minutes on one side over low-medium heat. Flip strips, and cook for another 10 minutes.

Mix the Braggs, tamari, and liquid smoke in a separate bowl. Remove the tofu pan from the heat (after the total of 20 minutes it just cooked) and pour the sauce mixture over it. Shake the pan around to make sure the tofu is thoroughly coated on both sides; put pan back on burner. Immediately sprinkle the tofu with the nutritional yeast. Let it cook a minute or so until almost all the sauce cooks off; flip the strips and cook another minute.

Makes 16 strips of bacon. One serving is 2 strips.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fennel Spiced Flatbread

Once upon a time (I'm thinking sometime late January/ early February of 2009) I took a cooking class at The Chopping Block on the north side of Chicago. The name of the class was "So.... You're Dating a Vegetarian", and was geared toward date-night recipes that a non-veg might serve for their new vegetarian significant other. Of course, I think most of the class was filled with veg-heads who wanted to figure out new dishes to cook for themselves. While most of the recipes we learned that day were unremarkable (eg, most veggies already know how to make a curry stir fry!)... but this one stood out, and we used it for our Holiday Dinner in both 2009 and 2010 :)

I'm just posting the recipe as written below. However, to veganize it, instead of using goat cheese we used a tofu-based homemade vegan bacon instead. While it's not a sub for goat cheese, we thought it gave the dish a nice smoky flavor. For the 2009 holiday party, we used The Girl and the Fig Apricot Fig Chutney, which they used in the class. However, for the 2010 dinner, we couldn't find it anywhere, so we made up our own recipe based on the ingredients list. It turned out really well! The recipes for both the Tofu Bacon and the Apricot Fig Chutney each get their separate posts :)

Fennel Spice Flatbread with Apricot Fig Chutney and Goat Cheese
1 cup water, between 110-115 degrees
pinch sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/3 cup bread flour
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly cracked
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, lightly cracked
One 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and lightly mashed
Apricot Fig chutney as needed (The Girl & The Fig, or homemade)
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled (we used Vegan Bacon instead)
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped

Sprinkle yeast on top of water in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir gently until dissolved. Allow to proof until slightly foamy and aromatic to ensure yeast is alive, about 5 minutes. Add oil, 1 cup of each flour, and salt.

Mix on medium low speed with a dough hook until incorporated, scraping down sides as necessary. Add remaining flour, coriander and fennel seeds, and chick peas. Knead on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5-6 minutes. Turn out onto a floured surface, knead a few turns by hand and shape into a ball. Place dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap on top of bowl not touching dough. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, about 60-75 minutes, or in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rub a sheet tray with olive oil. Spread the dough out onto the tray, stretching it until it reaches the edges and corners. Optionally, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt for extra flavor & crunch. Bake until just golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and spread with the fig and shallot chutney. Top with the goat cheese and rosemary and return to the oven just until the cheese is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Cut into squares or triangles and serve warm.

  • Adding a pinch of sugar to the warm water will help the yeast grown. Do not add enough to change the flavor.
  • For the fennel and coriander seeds, crack with mortar and pestle. Do not use ground. If you must use ground, halve the amount.
  • For our class, they ran out of the Fig & Shallot chutney, so she used Apricot and Fig chutney. Preserved fruit or any other types of sweet or savory chutney would also work well with this recipe.
  • If the dough is allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator, bring it back to room temperature before rolling & baking.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cassoulet, Lake Style!

My friend Lake and I invented this dish together as a joke. We were playing a game of diplomacy, and I was France. The only French food I could think of to bring to snack on during this 8-hour game was brie... Hardly substantial! And not vegan, so Lake couldn't even have any :( So I suggested to Lake that we make a cassoulet, which is a French peasant stew made of duck, sausage, bacon, and beans. Seeing as three out of the four main ingredients were most decidedly non-vegan, it should have been a funny joke that ended there. But alas, I piqued Lake's curiosity, and he took my joke as a challenge. We ended up making cassoulet for the party by subbing vegan ingredients that he generally had on hand anyways! After a few tweaks, he optimized the recipe and posted it on his blog! It was his Mesomorph-Optimized Vegan Cassoulet Recipe that we used as the main dish for our 2010 Holiday Dinner.

I've re-typed the recipe here for easier scale-up & scale-down. For the holiday dinner, we increased the proportions by 50% and had plenty of leftovers! Clearly, this is a very large recipe, as it yields 22 servings!

Lake's Mesomorph-Optimized Vegan Cassoulet
2 carrots, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes (28 oz)
8 tablespoons avocado oil
4 boxes Lifelight Smart Bacon, with strips pre-separated and cut into 1-inch squares
4 cups diced onions
2 cans imitation duck (20oz total), w/liquid reserved
2 cans imitation chicken or 1.25 packages chicken-style seitan (20oz total), w/liquid reserved
6 cans cannellini beans (90oz total), drained
8 links Field Roast Italian Sausages, cut in half lengthwise, then in 1-in chunks
215 grams breadcrumbs
spices to taste; suggestion is a blend of equal parts herbs de provence, oregano, basil, & parsley

1. In a large pot or wok, add chopped carrots and diced tomatoes (including liquid) and heat to boiling and simmer until carrots are soft.

2. In a separate, large frying pan, add 8 Tbsp avocado oil and heat on high. Add cut & separated SmartBacon. Stir occasionally until about half of the squares just begin to blacken on the edges.

3. While Bacon is browning, add onions to the tomato/carrot mixture. Stir and allow onions to cook through. Add the reserved liquid from the imitation duck and imitation chicken. Stir once more and allow to continue on high heat. Remember to stir the pan-frying bacon periodically to prevent burning.

4. Dice the imitation duck and chicken into small chunks (1/2-in cubes) and stir into the simmering vegetable mixture. Add drained cannellini beans and stir again.

5. Once Smart Bacon is crisp and browned/blackened, transfer into the large vegetable/bean pot with tongs, leaving as much avocado oil in the frying pan as possible. Be careful of sputtering that may occur when transferring the hot bacon into the simmering liquid! If it becomes a problem, first transfer cooked bacon to a plate to allow to cool before transferring to bean & vegetable pot. Stir well.

6. Add Field Roast chunks to the retained oil and allow to pan-fry on high heat. Stir periodically until browned around the edges. Once sausage has browned, transfer entire contents of frying pan into the large pot. Again, be aware of sputtering; if the frying pan contents are too hot, allow to cool slightly before transferring into pot. Mix well and turn off heat.

7. In a separate bowl, mix 215 grams of carbohydrates in the form of breadcrumbs with spices to taste. The spices may be chosen on personal preference, but I suggest a mixture of equal parts herbes de provence, oregano, basil, and parsley. Use roughly four parts breadcrumbs to one part herb mixture by volume. Mix well.

8. Transfer individual portions into ramekins, or entire portion into casserole dish for serving. Top with breadcrumbs & spice mixture.

Yields 22 servings at 405 calories a serving.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cream of Squash Soup

We decided to try out a different squash soup for this year's holiday dinner. While similar in appearance to soups we'd done in the past, this one was slightly different, very simple to make, and very tasty! This recipe came from the Best of Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library Vegetarian Cookbook. Interestingly, the soup was very unimpressive until you add the final touches of adding a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkling of nutmeg over the top. Those two ingredients were what made the soup stand out!

Here is the re-typed recipe with a few clarifications. As originally written, the wording of the recipe was difficult to follow, so this is a re-copying of how we interpreted it to mean. However, we did make one substitution; instead of roasting our squash, we used canned pumpkin, and it turned out very successful! The only other things we changed was veganizing the recipe by using MimicCreme non-dairy cream substitute and Tofutti sour cream in place of their respective dairy counterparts. In effect, by veganizing this soup, we've also made it appropriate to serve to anyone (like myself) who is lactose intolerant!

Cream of Squash Soup
1 piece banana, Hubbard or pumpkin squash, 3.5 - 4 lbs, cut into quarters and any seeds and strings removed (or canned equivalent)
4-8 whole cloves
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried marjoram
4 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup heavy (double) cream
sour cream
freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat over to 375. Stick one or two whole cloves in the flesh of each squash piece. Place pieces flesh side down in a baking pan or ovenproof dish. Pour in some hot water to fill pan about 1/2 inch. Bake until tender, about 1 hour. Add boiling water if pan begins to dry. Remove from oven and let cool about 20-25 minutes. Discard cloves and scoop out flesh. Should have about 5 cups (2.5lb)

In a large saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and marjoram, cover, and cook over very low heat until translucent and tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add the contents of the saucepan and the squash to a blender 2 cups at a time. Puree on high speed until very smooth and light, about 3 minute. As each batch is pureed, transfer to saucepan. Add the stock and lemon juice.

Place the soup over medium heat, stirring frequently, to blend the flavors, 8-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, stir the cream into the soup and heat almost to a boil. Ladle into warmed soup bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream and a grating of nutmeg or sprinkling of parsley or mint. Serve at once.

Serve 6-8 with leftovers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cavi-Art: Vegan Caviar

Cavi-Art Vegan Caviar was our go-to quick appetizer option. Made from seaweed, Cavi-Art is a vegan product with the gel-like consistency with slight fishy flavor that can be easily substitute caviar at parties! Unfortunately, it is no longer available in the US :( That's too bad, because it has a longer shelf life than regular caviar, can be used in all types of dishes for both flavoring and decoration, and does not harm fish populations! It's also low fat, low salt, and cholesterol free... The perfect snack, really. Hopefully there will be enough complaints in the US that they'll bring it back; otherwise, we're stuck just having to visit Europe if we want some ;-)

Vegan Latkes!

We tried our hand at veganizing latkes at this year's Holiday Dinner. Latkes are generally enjoyed during Hanukkah and are traditionally made with grated potatoes, flour, and egg. We used a modified version of the recipe found in the book Vegan Table. We decided to make two version of the recipe: one using white potatoes, and another using sweet potatoes. The sweet potato version were not as structurally sound as the regular version, but still tasted pretty good! All in all, I think they were a success and may find their way back onto the menu for the Holiday Dinner once again.

The biggest change we made to the recipe was really how the flax seeds were handled. The first step of the original recipe tells you to blend 2 Tablespoons of ground flax seeds with 1/4 cup water. Now, I have no clue what kind of food processor or blender the author of this book owns, but I'll tell you that neither the food processor nor the blender we have can handle such a small volume. So, unless you own the world's tiniest blender, that instruction just won't work.

We found two work-arounds for this. First, if you can grind your flax seeds finely enough, you can simply whisk the ground flax seeds into the water, then allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes until it thickens. This works best if you buy pre-ground flax, or if you grind the heck out of your seeds. The other alternative is to triple the recipe, then use only 1/3 of the resulting paste, discarding the rest as waste. As this is somewhat wasteful, I'd prefer the first option, but it's a good alternative if you're making a double or triple batch anyways.

Potato Latkes
2 Tablespoons (14g) ground flax seeds
1/4 cup (60mL) water
4 cups (440g) peeled and shredded potatoes (about 5 medium-sized potatoes)
6 scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (8g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (6g) salt (or to taste)
canola oil, for frying
non-dairy sour cream and/or applesauce, for accompaniments
chopped chives for garnish (optional)

Whisk ground flaxseed and water together for 1-2 minutes, until mixture reaches a thick and creamy, almost gelatinous consistency. Set aside. (If mixture does not thicken, flax was not ground finely enough; either start over or triple the recipe and blend in food processor or blender. Only use 1/3 of resulting mixture).

Spread potatoes on a kitchen towel or cheesecloth, and roll up jelly-roll style. Twist towel tightly to wring out as much liquid as possible. You may need to do this again with a second towel to extract all the water. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Add "flax egg" to potatoes, along with scallions, flour, and salt. Use your hands to combine ingredients and to get a feel for the mixture. You want it moist but not too wet.

Heat some oil in a large-size nonstick saute pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Using a tablespoon, scoop a large spoonful of potato mixture into hot oil, pressing down to for 1/4 to 1/2-inch (6mm to 1cm) thick patty. You are not trying to creat dense patties, but the batter should stick together enough to be flipped without falling apart. Slide a spatula underneath latkes while they're cooking to make sure they don't stick to the pan.

Brown on one side, turn over, and brown on the other. You may need more oil as you add more latkes to the pan. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil. Season with salt.

Serve hot with nondairy sour cream and/or applesauce and sprinkle with chives, if desired.

Yield: 15 to 20 latkes

Tip: Shredded or grated potatoes will oxidize and turn a grayish brownish color pretty quickly. It is recommended that you chop you scallions and prepare you flax egg before shredding the potatoes. Prepare the potatoes by hand, or use the special grating blade in your food processor.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vegetarian Chopped Liver

Hi, I'm David! This is my first post on this blog, though I've been involved in the creation of the recipes in the vast majority of the posts. So it's about time I write something up, and what better post to start with than one of my first forays into vegetarian/vegan cooking!

This recipe dates back a number of years. My parents occasionally had events catered. And at many of these, chopped liver was served as an appetizer. One year, shortly after I went vegetarian, my mom noticed that the caterers had a veggie chopped liver option. So she decided to try it. It was an absolute hit--it ran out long before the real liver was even half gone. In the years since, only the veggie version was ordered--it was better for you, and in most people's opinion tasted better. So after a few months of begging, I was given the recipe. The original version calls for eggs, but we've worked around that rather well. This is one of the simplest recipes I know, but it is always a hit.

Veggie Chopped Liver
1 Large Spanish Onion
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts
4 Hard Boiled Eggs (or 1 Cup firm Tofu with 2 tsp Turmeric)
1 Can Le Sueur Baby Peas, Drained
Olive oil and salt

Chop the onion and saute it with a little olive oil until well cooked.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor with a dash of salt. Process until well mixed, but not quite creamy. There should be some texture while still spreadable. Serve with crackers or crudites.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


This Glühwein recipe was featured as our aperitif at this year's Holiday Dinner. Glühwein is a warm mulled wine that is often enjoyed in German-speaking countries. There are many variations depending on the region, but is generally prepared with red wine that has been heated and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, citrus, and sugar. It is similar in essence to its Nordic cousin, Glögg, which is of Scandinavian origin. Drinking glühwein always puts me in the holiday mood! One of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season is to visit the big German Christmas Market at Daley Plaza and enjoy some hot glühwein to warm up :)

The recipe we used was nice and simple. Adding whole fruits to the pot definitely gave it a nice festive flair, but when we first tested the recipe, we used extracts instead, just to get an idea of the taste without putting too much effort in making it. Both versions worked well, though, the pot is much prettier with the fruit floating inside :-P

3 Oranges
2 Lemons
12 Cloves
115g Caster sugar
6 Cardamom Pods
4 Cinnamon sticks
4 Bottles medium red wine (we used Delicato Shiraz)
1/4 Bottle French brandy
1/4 Bottle dry sherry

Cut the oranges and lemons in half, squeeze out the juice into a large enamel casserole dish or pot, and stud the squeezed halves with cloves. Pour the red wine into the pot with the sugar, and mix the wine, juice and sugar together to dissolve the sugar in the liquid. Float the spiced fruits in the pot and add the cardamom pods and the cinnamon sticks, breaking them in half. Put the pot over a medium heat and bring to a high heat, without boiling, stirring occasionally to ensure that the sugar has dissolved properly. Then add the sherry, stir and just before serving add the brandy. Don't keep the pot at a high constant heat - just let it stay warm.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Our Holiday Dinner 2010

For the third year running, we shared our holiday cheer with our close friends the only way we know how..... by hosting a fabulous dinner party! As is now tradition, our meal is completely vegan so that every guest can have their fill without worrying. It's definitely worth all the time and effort we spent testing recipes, planning the menu, and preparing the food in order to give our friends the gift of this wonderful meal among great company. What a great way to celebrate another year of friendship!

Here's the menu for our six-course dinner. Enjoy!!

A German Holiday Favorite!

Vegan Chopped Liver and Vegan Caviar
Quick and easy appetizer options that goes well with crudites and crackers! And without the metallic liver aftertaste of real liver or the fishiness of real caviar!

Latkes, served with applesauce and vegan sour cream
To infuse a little Chanukah into the Holiday dinner, we served some warm latkes and sweet potato latkes to nibble on before dinner!

Poached Pear Salad
Such a simple & elegant salad, we've used it all three years! This year, we used a white balsamic raspberry vinegar in the dressing.

Cream of Squash Soup
A nice, pumpkin based soup. The final sprinkling of nutmeg and dollop of sour cream definitely make this soup!

Main Course
A French peasant dish, veganized and served with some holiday flair!

Acorn Squash with Apple, Sage, and Quinoa Stuffing, served with Field Roast Apple Sage Sausages
An all-time favorite at our holiday dinner! This dish never ceases to impress people! Adding diced apple sage seitan sausages to the stuffing gives it a nice extra depth. This year, tripled the recipe for the party, but only served it with the indicated number of squashes... As always, the stuffing is more popular than its serving vessel!

Fennel Spiced Flatbread with Apricot Fig Chutney and Smoked Tofu Bacon
Another crowd-pleaser, this dish has made it back onto our holiday menu for the second year in a row. This time, though, we made our chutney from scratch, and we made sure to have enough so it doesn't run out like last year!

Mustard & Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts, served with vegan ham
We also brought this recipe back for the third year in a row! This year, we changed it up a little by pan frying a little bit of diced vegan ham and throwing it into the recipe. Delicious, and just as popular as always!

Assorted Vegetables
A simple staple at dinner. Steamed asparagus served with Hollandaise sauce. Steamed broccoli served with pine nuts. Zucchini, summer squash, turnips, carrots, parsnips, and kohlrabi drizzled in olive oil and tossed with garlic, salt, and pepper.

Garlic Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes
Another very simple side that's just simply delicious! Modeled after the garlic cream cheese mashed potatoes at one of our favorite breweries in Chicago, this dish has been a hit since the first time it was re-invented in our kitchen!

Sweet Potato Pie
Again, another menu item making its third appearance for the holidays. I only have this once a year, so it's nice to have it back on the menu!

Apple Pie
An American classic :) Nothing says home quite like a homemade apple pie!

Assorted Cupcakes
Delicious bites of heaven!

Assorted Truffles
Decadent little mouthfuls!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chocolate Truffles, Now We're Cookin'!

As I mentioned in the Truffle Challenge post, I got this recipe from a truffle-making class at Now We're Cookin' in Evanston. We veganized the recipe by simply using vegan versions of the ingredients and following the recipe as written. Can't get any easier than that! For our holiday dinner, the flavor combinations we went with were Vanilla coated in powdered sugar, Black Truffle Salt coated in cocoa powder, Black Raspberry liqueur coated in silver sugar sprinkles, Peppermint coated with crushed candy cane, Sea Salt coated in macadamia nuts, and Balsamic Vinegar coated in hazelnuts.

The only real major glitch we had with the recipe was in making Vegan White Chocolate truffles. We tried following the recipe using vegan white chocolate chips, but while they melted as promised, they did not re-solidify readily, even when frozen. Luckily the dark chocolate version worked so well, the white chocolate ones were not missed! (As a side note, remember when making vegan dark chocolate truffles, be sure that the ingredients list does not contain any milk or milk derivative!)

We also encountered a few other minor issues that weren't as fatal as the white chocolate fiasco. First, when coating truffles with any type of sugar-- in our case, the powdered sugar and candy cane bits-- it's important to realize that the truffles will absorb the sugar. Therefore, if you plan on storing them before serving (they will last a month in the freezer), allow for an extra generous coating, otherwise they become a sticky mess! It may also be worth it coat them again right before serving.

Another consideration if using hard candy is crushing them to the correct size. Crush it too small, and they become powdery and cause they truffle to become a sticky liquid if left too long before eaten. If the pieces are too large, they do not coat the truffle very well; this same issue also applies to using crushed nuts.

Anyways, without further delay, I present you with the recipe, with my notes on vegan subs and a few other minor corrections, below:

Chocolate Truffles
Yield 18 large or 24 medium

1 1/8 cups bittersweet chocolate; 7 oz by weight (check ingredients for milk)
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1/2 stick butter (Earth Balance sticks)
1/3 cup heavy cream (unsweetened MimicCreme)
pinch salt (optional)
flavoring (options to follow)
2 Tbsp cocoa or powdered sugar

Chop chocolate and butter into small pieces. You may melt it slightly either in a double boiler or microwave, being careful not to overcook the chocolate; alternatively, you may simply let the hot cream melt the chocolate in the next step.

In a small nonreactive saucepan, heat cream to a boil. Remove from heat, strain, and pour over chocolate. Let sit about 2 minutes. Add flavoring, then begin stirring. Continue stirring until the mixture becomes a smooth shiny mass. If the mixture still has lumps of chocolate, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until the lumps disappear.

Chill about 30 minutes until solidified enough to work. To form the truffles, pipe (with a pastry bag), scoop, or roll into balls by hand.

To finish, place the truffles in a ziplock back with cocoa or powdered sugar and shake to coat.

Flavor Options may include:
Sea Salt (1 Tsp)
Cinnamon (1/2 tsp)
peppermint extract (1/2 tsp)
vanilla (1 tsp)
citrus oil/extract (1/2 tsp)

Chef's Note:
-If using whole spices, tea, citrus zest, or other flavorings, you will need to infuse them into the cream. To do this, stir the spice/flavor into the heated cream before you add it to the chocolate. Remove the pan from heat to steep for 10-15 minutes (infuses the flavor). When enough flavor has developed, reheat the cream to boiling, then strain and add to the chocolate. Stir well before chilling.
-If using liquid flavorings, add after chocolate has melted. Stir well before chilling
-If using nuts, dried fruit, etc, stir in at the very end before chilling.

-When piping truffles, remove ganache from refrigeration slightly earlier than indicated since it is easier to pipe when still soft.
-When scooping truffles, allow ganache to harden completely. Dip scoop in hot water periodically to allow for easier forming.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Decadent Chocolate Truffles, from Vegan Table

The truffle recipe found in The Vegan Table tasted pretty good; however, it was very difficult to work with and the taste was less rich than we expected from the truffle. What it lacked in richness, however, it made up for in sweetness. Compared to the truffles made with the Now We're Cooking recipe, these tasted more like frosting rather than decadent truffles. However, without the other recipe as a point of comparison, this recipe still worked well for what it was.

The biggest problem we encountered wasn't so much the final product, as it was the execution of the recipe. Once we were able to make the truffles, they would have easily worked in our menu. The issue, however, were the directions in the recipe. The first step in the recipe is to beat the cream cheese in a food processor. We tried doing that, resulting in a broken food processor. We then tried transferring it into a blender, but that failed to blend and ended up getting stuck in the bottom. In the end, we just started over and hand mixed the cream cheese with the sugar. It took much more work than anticipated, not to mention that we also broke the food processor and wasted a tub of cream cheese at the bottom of the blender. I'm not sure whether the authors of this recipe even tried out their food processor theory, or if they failed to mention key steps that would have kept our equipment from failing.

In any event, here is the recipe we went off of, below. In order to avoid the problems we came across, it'd be best if the cream cheese were as warm as possible. Room temperature is probably best, though I have no experience with heating nondairy cream cheese, so I'm not sure if that would help it or ruin it. I still think it is best made by mixing by hand, though perhaps a more powerful food processor than the one we had might also work!

As mentioned in the Truffle Challenge post, we divided this recipe into thirds and flavored them with balsamic vinegar, Chambord raspberry liqueur, and vanilla. The flavors worked well, but they seemed fainter than those using the other recipe. It may be that the cream cheese base absorbs more of the flavor than the butter/cream base of the other recipe. Whatever the case may be, several people commented that the flavors used with this truffle seemed faint and could stand to be a little less subtle.

DECADENT CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES (text taken from The Vegan Table)
These are so much fun to make (kids can get involved), and when you coat the truffles in a variety of ingredients, they become a beautiful, delicious dessert.

Yield: 50 to 60 truffles, or servings

1 8 ounce container nondairy cream cheese
3 cups confectioners' sugar
3 cups nondairy semisweet or dark chocolate chips (or any high-quality chocolate), melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Ingredients for coating truffles (see below)

In the large bowl of a food processor, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time, until well blended. Add melted chocolate and vanilla and stir until thoroughly combined.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight. The longer you refrigerate the batter, the easier it will be to roll into perfect balls. However, it will definitely require elbow grease to scoop them out.

Shape into 1-inch balls. Refrigerate again if the batter is too soft, especially if your kitchen is warm. Use a strong spoon or melon baller to create uniform sizes.

Once rolled, either send balls back to fridge or coat in any of the following:

* Finely ground nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds)
* Sifted cocoa powder
* Toasted or raw coconut
* Sifted confectioners' sugar
* Candy sprinkles (the sparkly kind)

Serving Suggestions and Variations

To create a hard chocolate shell, refrigerate rolled truffle balls for at least 30 minutes (longer is fine, too). Melt some nondairy chocolate, either a good quality chocolate bar or chocolate chips, and dip each ball into the chocolate. Return to the refrigerator and let set for at least 1 hour.

To change the truffle flavor, omit the vanilla and replace it with 1 tablespoon of another flavor. You can even get several flavors out of one batch by dividing the truffle “batter” into thirds when you first combine the ingredients, and then adding 1 tablespoon of whatever flavor you want to each mixture.

For an elegant dinner party, prepare the truffles with the melted dark chocolate coating, then buy some edible gold and silver powder from baking specialty shops and dust over.

For grown-up parties, add 1 or 2 tablespoons Kahlúa, Grand Marnier, cherry brandy, or another liqueur.

*Wheat-free, soy-free

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Truffle Challenge

In November, I randomly took a truffle-making class with my mom at Now We're Cookin', a cooking school in Evanston. I brought some of my creations over to Kargie's house to let him try my wares, and we decided then and there to try making a vegan version for our holiday dinner! We weren't sure how it would turn out since the three main ingredients of truffles--chocolate, butter, and cream-- were traditionally non-vegan. My mom, knowing my propensity for making vegan food despite not being vegan, even asked the teacher at the cooking class how to veganize their recipe; the answer we received was that they didn't know! Undaunted, Kargie & I set off on our quest to make some pretty awesome vegan truffles.

Our first task was to figure out whether to go with the recipe we used at the cooking class, or find another recipe that was already vegan. We decided that the truffles I'd made with my mom were too good not to try to make vegan; but barring complete failure of the vegan version of that recipe, we also decided to try out a version found in the book Vegan Table.

Once that was decided, our second dilemma was determining what flavors to try out. The cooking school gave us 5 choices during our class: vanilla, cinnamon, peppermint, sea salt, and citrus. We liked the idea of vanilla and peppermint. I had the brilliant idea of trying to make truffle-flavored truffles (using truffle salt instead of sea salt). We also decided on a red raspberry and a balsamic truffle.

With two recipes and five flavors to test, we just made one portion of each recipe, then split them to add the different flavorings. The Now We're Cooking recipe yielded fewer truffles, so we split it in two, dividing it between the peppermint and the truffle salt. We divided the Vegan Table recipe into thirds to flavor it with balsamic vinegar, Chambord (black raspberry liqueur), and vanilla.

Finally, after the truffles were made we coated them in various items, such as cocoa, powdered sugar, and sugar sprinkles. We found that the cocoa and powdered sugar coated the truffles fairly easily, but the sugar sprinkles didn't stick until we melted the truffles slightly in our hands.

All in all, the challenge turned out to be a success. All five flavors we tried turned out well, though a few people commented the the flavors of the balsamic and the black truffle salt could stand to be stronger. For the party, we decided to repeat those five flavors, as well as a plain sea salt one. We also wanted to experiment with coating the truffles with nuts rather than sugar crystals, as well as to try making while chocolate truffles.

In terms of the recipes, the Now We're Cooking truffle recipe veganized pretty easily with a few simple substitutions, but I'll save the details of that for a later blog post. It was fortunate that this recipe was so simple, since the Vegan Table recipe proved much harder to work with, and tasted more like chunks of frosting rather than truffles. They were such a great idea that we made extras to give out as gifts to friends.

Recipes for both types of truffles can be found below:
Decadent Chocolate Truffles from Vegan Table
Chocolate Truffles, from Now We're Cookin'

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cupcake Challenge, Recap!

So, for the final recap of the great Cupcake Challenge for 2010, I'll list a summary of the challenges we did and the outcomes! We tested a total of 12 cupcakes recipes with their respective frostings, as well as a few other alternate frosting/cupcake options. We chose 6 to be featured at our holiday dinner, but the overall quality of the recipes was so high that I'm sure we'll repeat some of the other recipes on other occasions. All the recipes we tried were courtesy of a pretty amazing little book called Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

Round 1
In the first round, the overall favorite was the Maple Walnut Cupcakes and was given an instant pass onto the holiday menu. The Cookies & Cream lacked a wow factor, and the Mexican Hot Chocolate fell apart, but both were good enough to be placed on the "maybe" list if we could modify the recipes to try to correct each of their shortcomings. The Dulce Sin Leche cupcake was also a good recipe, but fell short in terms of living up to expectations. It was not chosen for the holiday menu.

Round 2
Three out of the four tested recipes were spectacular and automatically made it to the holiday menu: Apple Cider, Gingerbread, and Pistachio Rosewater. Only the Chai Latte did not make the cut. However, it was still a good cupcake, and although similar in appearance to the Mexican Hot Chocolate, it held its shape well.

Round 2.5
The Pumpkin Chocolate Chip was a surprise menu item choice. It had not even been selected to be tested or considered for the holiday party; it just seemed serendipitous that I needed to get rid of an open can of pumpkin and used this recipe to do so. The results exceeded my expectations, and this cupcake became one of my favorites despite its simplicity.

Round 3
For final challenge, we repeated the Mexican Hot Chocolate, hoping our previous problem had been due to undercooking. This was not the case, as the same crumbling, lack of structure occurred. The cashew cardamom was unremarkable and pineapple rightside up recipe was light and refreshing; however, neither recipe was in serious contention since they didn't fit with the holiday theme. The Toasted Coconut was good enough to receive a pass, and became the Jewish-inspired dessert of the evening, being dubbed as Chocolate Macaroon cupcakes on the recipe.

Holiday Dinner Cupcake Menu
Apple Cider with Caramel Glaze and Apple Buttercream Frosting
Chocolate Macaroon with Toasted Coconut Frosting
Gingerbread with Lemony Buttercream Frosting
Maple with Creamy Maple Frosting and Sugared Walnuts
Pistachio Rosewater with Rosewater Buttercream Frosting
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipes That Were Not Chosen
*I may post some of these recipes, especially if we decide to do them for another occasion*
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Cookies & Cream
Dulce Sin Leche
Chai Latte
Pineapple Right Side Up
Cashew Cardamom (popular with Toasted Coconut Buttercream)

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes

AKA Chocolate Macaroon Cupcakes
The original recipe called for Coffee Buttercream Frosting (recipe found in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World). However, we were unable to find coffee extract, so we just added coconut extract to the regular Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting instead. The result was more of a chocolate macaroon-type cupcake. We decorated them with blue & white star sprinkles to give a more festive, Chanukah- inspired decoration!

1 cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup coconut oil
1 cup coconut milk
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp coconut extract
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Toasted Coconut (recipe below)
Coconut Buttercream Frosting (Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting with coconut extract)
blue & white star sprinkles (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for mini-cupcakes). Line muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
3. Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over very low heat. Once melted, turn the heat off but leave it in the pan on the stove so that it stays warm and does not solidify.
4. In a separate medium bowl, mix together coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and coconut extract. Stir in the melted coconut oil. Add the flour mixture in batches, beating well after each addition. Mix until smooth, then fold in the shredded coconut.
5. Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To assemble:
1. Spread a generous amount of Coconut Buttercream Frosting on cooled cupcakes. Roll the frosted cupcake along its rim in the Toasted Coconut to create a ring around the circumference.
2. Add a few star sprinkles to the center to decorate.

Toasted Coconut
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat a small frying pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Pour the coconut into the pan; stir constantly with a spatula. The coconut will being to turn honey brown. Keep stirring and tossing for about 1 ½ minutes to get all the coconut evenly toasted. Turn off the heat and keep stirring and tossing for 30 seconds more. Once uniformly toasted, transfer to a plate and spread out to cool.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cupcakes, Part 3

The third and final round of our Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World recipe-testing challenge ended up being more for fun than anything else. With five of our maximum of six cupcakes chosen, we ended up choosing some to do that seemed interesting, more than anything else. For consideration for the holiday dinner, we repeated the Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe (pictured upper left), and tested out the Toasted Coconut Cupcakes (lower right). For fun, we also tested out the Cashew Cardamom (upper right) and the Pineapple Right-Side-Up (lower left).

The repeat of the Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes turned out the same as the first. While it tasted good, the texture was crumbly and the cupcake fell apart when unwrapped. We originally thought that they may have been undercooked, so this time we made sure to keep them in the oven longer. Even so, they still lacked structure. We also tried adding a chocolate ganache to the top as a "fancier" frosting, but found that it overpowered the cupcake. So sadly, as much as we tried to make it work, we decided against including the Mexican Hot Chocolates in the holiday menu.

The Toasted Coconuts were also very good, and thankfully these at least held their structure. While not as overwhelmingly delicious as some of the ones from previous weeks, it was still a good, strong cupcake. We did have to modify the recipe a little (which I will discuss when I post the recipe), but overall it came out well. We decided to give it a little Jewish spin by marketing them as Chocolate Macaroon cupcakes at the holiday dinner, and dressing them up with white and blue star sprinkles.

I was personally a huge fan of the pineapple rightside up cupcakes! They were nice, light, and fruity without being too sweet. We pretty much followed the recipe exactly, and it came out great without any tweaks. The real key, though, is to make sure to underfill the cupcake cups slightly so that there's room for the topping. The up-side to that is the better makes a heck of a lot of cupcakes. I'm almost tempted to throw a 70's-themed party so that we can serve them to people without being too weird or out of place ;-)

My least favorite of the bunch was the cashew cardamom. They were definitely unique, but didn't really stand out as much as I thought they should. Due to an accident in frosting, some of our friends (aka cupcake testers) enjoyed some mis-frosted cashew cardamom cupcakes topped with the Toasted Coconut Frosting. I personally thought it was an odd combination, but two of our friends thought it was amazing. To each his own, I guess!

Anyways, this round concludes our cupcake testing challenge! We have six great cupcake flavors picked out to be served at our holiday dinner, and in addition, we have a few more that we enjoyed but were not chosen for this particular event. Having tested 12 different recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and being impressed by the majority, I'd say that it's definitely a great book to have in your kitchen arsenal! There were many more recipes in that book that I'd eventually like to try out that either seemed too labor-intensive to miniaturize, or weren't particularly holiday-appropriate. I think this is one of the few recipe books I have in which I actually want to try out the majority of recipes!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

AKA Cupcake Challenge, Part 2.5!
These were a surprise hit! I randomly made a batch of these around Thanksgiving since I had a half a can of pumpkin I needed to use up, and all the other ingredients were just standard kitchen staples. They were so delicious, we decided to add them to our holiday dessert menu!

The original recipe called for cinnamon icing. While it was very good that way, we thought the cupcake needed a little dressing up if it was going to be featured at the party. So we decided on the Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting, and tried it multiple ways: plain, with 1 tsp ground cinnamon, or plain topped with the cinnamon icing that came with the original recipe .

All versions worked pretty well, but for the party, we ended up going with the cinnamon-infused cream cheese frosting since it carried the flavor but didn’t add the extra step of making 2 toppings.

1 cup canned pumpkin
⅓ cup oil
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup soy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup soy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
½ cup chocolate chips

Cinnamon Icing (recipe below)
or Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting + 1 tsp cinnamon
or plain Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting topped w/Cinnamon Icing

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for mini-cupcakes). Line muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together pumpkin, oil, sugar, soy milk, and vanilla. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir together with a fork; don’t use a handheld mixer, as it will make the batter gummy. Once well combined, fold in the chocolate chips.
3. Fill liners two-thirds full. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let fully cool before icing.

To Assembe:
- If only using icing, take a small plastic sandwich bag and cut out a tiny hold in one edge or fit a pastry bag with a small-holed decorating tip. Fill the bag with icing and pipe it out Jackson Pollack-style onto the cupcakes. You may also opt to pipe it in zig-zags, lines, or swirls. Let the icing set at room temperature or refrigerated.
- If using Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting, simply frost once cupcakes have cooled.
- If using Cream Cheese Frosting + Icing, first frost cupcakes, then drizzle with icing as indicated above.

Cinnamon Icing
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp margarine, melted
1 tbsp soy milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Place sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add the margarine, soy milk, and vanilla, and stir with a fork until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to use. The mixture should look opaque and honey brown. If it’s glistening a lot or looks too liquid, add a little extra confectioners’ sugar.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Gingerbread w/Lemon Buttercream Frosting

These cupcakes were topped with Lemon Buttercream Frosting (recipe below). To make it extra lemony, we added extra lemon extract and a few drops of yellow food coloring to the frosting. Very delicious!! Alternatively, a Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting (found in the book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World) could also be used; however, we didn't test out that option.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup light molasses
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup soy milk
2 tbsp soy yogurt
1 ½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
¼ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for mini-cupcakes). Line a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt into a bowl and mix.
3. Whisk the oil, molasses, maple syrup, soy milk, yogurt, and lemon zest in a separate large bowl. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix just until smooth. Fold in the chopped crystallized ginger.
4. Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full. Bake for 19 to 22 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Buttercream Frosting
¼ cup shortening
¼ cup margarine, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl, cream the shortening and margarine until well combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar in roughly ½-cup additions. After each addition of sugar, add a splash of lemon juic and beat well with a handheld mixer. Add vanilla and beat for another 3 to 5 minutes until smooth, creamy, and fluffy. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pistachio Rosewater Cupcakes

These cupcakes were meant to be topped with a simple rosewater icing, but our cupcake testing showed that our family and friends preferred them topped with Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting made with a teaspoon of rosewater and tinted pink! We also didn’t use the optional pink sugar crystals. Instead, we piped them into flowers using a fancy-pants piping tip, then sprinkled crushed pistachios over the top of them. Very pretty and refreshing!!

½ cup vanilla soy yogurt
⅔ cup soy milk or rice milk
⅓ cup canola oil
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp rosewater
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
Generous pinch cardamom
⅓ cup finely chopped pistachios, lightly toasted if desired
Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting (plus a few drops of red food coloring, and 1 tsp rosewater)
Chopped pistachios, for garnish (about ½ cup)
Pink decorating sugar crystals (about 1 tbsp), optional.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for mini-cupcakes). Line muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together yogurt, soy milk, oil, sugar, and rosewater. Sift in flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Mix until relatively smooth. Fold in pistachios. Fill liners three-quarters of the way. Bake 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Note: Be sure to use high-quality rosewater made with real roses (check the ingredients to make sure there’s no “perfume” or synthetic ingredients and that it’s meant for kitchen use).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Apple Cider Cupcakes

So, the favorite for Cupcake Battle Round 2, and (arguably) the overall Cupcake Challenge were the Apple Cider Cupcakes. Despite that, we were also able to improve the flavor further by adding a little bit of green apple extract to the frosting. DELICIOUS! They definitely remind me of fall, caramel apples, and apple cider. Mmmmm!

2 cups apple cider
1 tbsp agar flakes or 1 tsp agar powder
2 cinnamon sticks
½ tsp whole cloves
½ tsp whole allspice
½ cup apple butter
¼ cup maple syrup
¾ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting
Caramel Brown Rice Glaze
cinnamon sugar or ground cinnamon for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 for mini-cupcakes). Line a muffin tray with cupcake liners.
2. Place apple cider, agar agar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice in a small saucepan. If using agar flakes, let mixture soak for 10 minutes; if using powder, proceed to the next step.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together the apple butter, maple syrup, sugar, vegetable oil, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla.
5. Bring the apple cider mixture to a boil, then lower heat to bring to a low rolling boil, careful not to let it boil over. Boil for about 15 minutes until the cider is reduced to 1 ¼ cups and the agar agar is dissolved. (If the cider hasn’t reduced enough, boil longer. If it has reduced too much, add extra apple cider to make up for the difference.) Stir frequently because the agar agar tends to stick to the sides of the pan.
6. Strain the apple cider and discard the spices. Let cool to lukewarm, then add the apple cider to the apple butter mixture and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the we3t ingredients in roughly three batches, mixing well after each addition.
7. Spray the cupcake liners with nonstick cooking spray. Fill each liner three-quarters full. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
8. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

To assemble:
1. Pipe the buttercream frosting onto the cupcakes and sprinkle some cinnamon or cinnamon sugar on top of it. Use a spoon to drizzle the caramel over the frosting. It would be cute to stick a cinnamon stick onto the frosting if you are feeling fancy-pants.

Note: The spices called for are in their whole form. If you can’t find whole spices, add ¼ tsp each ground cinnamon and ground allspice and ⅛ tsp ground cloves to the flour mixture.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cupcakes, Part 2

Round 2 of the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World recipe-testing challenge was quite a major success! The contestants for the week were (pictured in order going clockwise from the upper left) Pistachio Rosewater, Gingerbread w/Lemony Frosting, Apple Cider, and Chai Latte!

The overwhelming favorite for that week was the Apple Cider Cupcakes. I thought they were great, but was a little underwhelmed by the lack of apple-y flavor, particularly in the frosting. Even so, it was well-loved enough to get an overwhelming pass for our holiday dinner menu! To try to correct them, we experimented in increasing the apple-ness of the cupcakes by adding applesauce to the top of the frosting to bring out the flavor. For the party, we would want to experiment with apple extract, since putting applesauce on top ruined the look of it... We would prefer adding extra apple flavor without changing how the cupcake looked.

The my personal favorite for the evening was the Gingerbread with Lemony Frosting. The dark, rich gingerbread cupcake wasn't overly sweet, and balanced nicely with the frosting. However, once again, we felt that the flavor of the frosting was slightly underwhelming, so we increased the lemon flavor by adding lemon juice to the frosting. This watered down the frosting, so for the party we would again experiment with extracts to increase the flavor. Also, we decided the color was too pale, so we added a few drops of yellow food coloring to make the lemon flavor of the frosting a bit more obvious.

The Pistachio Rosewater cupcakes were quite interesting! We found that people either loved them or hated them. They had a nice, refreshing quality to them, and found that they were very pretty if we tinted rosewater-flavored buttercream pink, piped the frosting into the shape of flowers, then dusted them with crushed pistachio meat. We also just iced them as indicated in the recipe, but we found people who liked them generally preferred the buttercream. We ended up deciding to include them for the holiday dinner, even some people didn't care for them. They were light and refreshing, which balanced out some of the richer, more decadent cupcakes.

The last cupcake recipe we tested was the Chai Latte. It was a pretty good recipe, but definitely not as good as the others. Given the choice, I would have preferred the Mexican Hot Chocolate from Round 1, rather than this one. Of course, Chai lovers, like this cupcake, but we felt that the other cupcakes shadowed this one. So even though it wasn't a bad cupcake, we decided that this one would not be in the running to be part of the holiday dinner.

And so, with only two rounds of cupcake-testing done, it seems we'd picked 4 out of our maximum of 6 cupcake flavors, with two in reserve as maybes! We were definitely impressed by this week's slew of cupcakes. Even if all the rest of the cupcakes we test fail, we would still be in good shape for the holiday dinner!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Maple Cupcakes with Creamy Maple Frosting and Sugared Walnuts

The Maple Walnut Cupcakes were the first to be chosen to be featured in our Third Annual Vegan Holiday Dinner! After the first round of cupcake testing, this recipe was the only one to survive the first elimination (one got cut; the other two were placed on the maybe list... See this post to read about the challenge!)

Maple Cupcakes with Creamy Maple Frosting and Sugared Walnuts
This recipe calls for candying the walnuts before using in the recipes. Alternatively, the walnuts could just be toasted and used as is.

½ cup soy milk
½ tsp apple cider vinegar
1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ cup maple syrup
⅓ cup canola oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 ¼ tsp maple extract
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup sugared walnuts (recipe below), finely chopped (measure first, then chop)
creamy maple frosting (recipe below)

For the Sugared Walnuts:
1 cup walnut halves
⅓ cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp maple syrup
dash salt
dash ground cinnamon

-To make the sugared walnuts:
1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes. Open oven and shake the pan after about 4 minutes. Watch carefully so as not to burn! Remove from oven and place in a bowl to cool. Lightly grease a large piece of parchment paper and have it ready because you will need it at the end of the next step.
2. Pour sugar, maple syrup, and salt into a large, cold, heavy-bottom skillet. Turn heat to medium and stir with a wooden spoon till sugar starts to melt and bubble, about 5 minutes. Continue stirring and cook another 3 to 4 minutes until mixture is thick, amber-brown, and smells like caramel. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the walnuts and cinnamon, stirring to coat each nut. Immediately spread coated walnuts on greased parchment paper, using a spatula to spread out the nuts and avoid forming large clusters. Allow to cool completely on sheet before handling or eating.

-To make cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for mini cupcakes). Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
2. Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl; set aside and allow to curdle for a few minutes.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg into a separate bowl and mix. Whisk the maple syrup, oil, brown sugar, and vanilla, and maple extract into the soy milk mixture. Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour into wet ingredients, stirring till large lumps are gone; fold in chopped sugared walnuts. Fill cupcake liners two-thirds of the way. Bake 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks to cool completely. Frost with Creamy Maple Frosting and sprinkle with sugared walnuts.

Creamy Maple Frosting
⅔ cup maple syrup
¾ cup margarine, softened
⅔ cup soy milk powder
1 tsp maple extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat together the softened margarine and maple syrup. It might look a little curdly but that’s ok. Beat in the vanilla and the maple extract, then slowly add soy milk powder a little bit at a time. The frosting should be creamy and fluffy. If it looks too wet, add a little more soy milk powder. If too stiff, drizzle in a little more maple syrup. The frosting can be stored in fridge until ready to use; just allow to sit at room temperature 10 minutes to soften.

This recipe came from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

Cupcakes, Part 1!

When we started planning our holiday dinner, we decided we wanted to have an assortment of mini-cupcakes so that our guests could have a tiny bites of delight after their meal. So from Halloween to Thanksgiving, we tested recipes every week to decide which cupcakes made the cut! All the recipes we tried came from a wonderful little book called Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. For the first week, we tried out Maple Walnut, Cookies & Cream, Dulce Sin Leche, and Mexican Chocolate Chip (pictured above, listed clockwise starting from the upper left).

Based on our preferences, as well as those of our friends, the Maple Walnut Cupcakes were surprisingly by far the best of the group! While we expected them to be good, they exceeded our expectations by being fantastic!

People liked both chocolate cupcakes equally well. This was also surprising since we expected the Cookies and Cream to be more popular than the Mexican Hot Chocolate. However, the Mexican Hot Chocolates were fudgier and had a better depth of flavor than the Cookies & Cream's; in fact, the C&C's (while good) seemed like they were missing a little richness. The biggest problem with the Mexican Hot Chocolates was their crumbliness. They lacked a bit of structure and ended up falling apart before you could eat them!

The biggest disappointment (for me, at least) were the Dulce Sin Leche. They weren't bad, but with a name like that, we expected them to taste a little more decadent than they did. I'd even venture to say that the Maple Walnuts had the richness & decadence we expected from the Dulce's!

In the end we decided that we would definitely serve the Maple Walnuts at the party. We placed both chocolate cupcakes on the "maybe" list, depending on how our other test recipes panned out. The Dulce's were the first to be completely cut from the running!

For now, I'm only going to share the recipes that were chosen for the Holiday Dinner. However, if there's interest, I could also share other recipes once I've done all the ones from the Dinner Party.

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting

¼ cup nonhydrogenated margarine, softened
¼ cup vegan cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cream together margarine and cream cheese until combined. Use a handhelf mixer to whipe while adding the confectioners sugar in ½ cup batches. Mix until smooth and creamy, then mix in the vanilla. Keep tightly covered and refrigerated until ready to use.

Brown Rice Caramel Glaze

½ cup full-fat soy milk
¼ cup soy milk powder
1 tbsp arrowroot
½ cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a small saucepan, whisk together soy milk, soy milk powder, and arrowroot. Stir constantly over medium heat until arrowroot is cooked and mixture starts to thicken, about 4 minutes. Stir in brown rice syrup, turn up heat to medium high, and bring to a gentle boil, then bring heat back down so mixture is at a low simmer, all the while stirring constantly. Cook until mixture is thick and slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Sauce will have a thick consistency, like cake batter. Whisk in vanilla and remove from heat.
2. Allow to cool 10 minutes before spreading on warm cupcakes.

Tip: To measure out brown rice syrup, first rub canola oil on measuring cups. This will allow the syrup to slide easily out.

Vegan Fluffy Buttercream Frosting

Makes about 4 cups’ worth, so you can halve the recipe if you are going to spreading the frosting rather than piping it.

½ cup nonhydrogenated shortening
½ cup nonhydrogenated margarine (we use Earth Balance)
3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted if clumpy
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup plain soy milk or soy creamer

Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes. Add the vanilla and soy milk. Beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.