Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Steam-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

As the farmer’s market season winds to a close, I enjoy perusing the late season offerings before they go away for another year. Among the winter squashes and root vegetables available this time of year you can sometimes find some nice brussels sprouts.
I like to prepare these simply in order to let their natural flavor (stronger in fresh sprouts than in frozen) shine through.

These are called steam-roasted because the added water and foil allow them to steam during the first half of the cooking, and the uncovered second half lets them crisp and brown up. This allows them to have nice caramelized exteriors while still being tender and fully cooked on the inside—the best of both worlds.

Steam-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Steam-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

2 lbs fresh brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp oil
2 tbsp water
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp lemon pepper
dash of dill weed


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Sliced in half

Wash the brussels sprouts. Cut off any tough ends and slice each one in half vertically. Toss with oil and seasonings.

Flipping and checking

Spread sprouts out on a baking sheet cut-side down in a single layer. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and then bake for about another 12 minutes. Flip a few to check the undersides for done-ness. If they are sufficiently brown, then serve and enjoy.

By the way, you can buy brussels sprouts on the stalk if you want to. They do look more impressive this way. It can extend the prep time considerably though, and I find it fairly difficult to hack the sprouts off that tough stalk. It’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re getting a good deal, too, because the stalk is included in the weight. It’s up to you, though--conquering the big stalk at least once is kind of a fun adventure.

On the stalk

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The easiest vegan candy bar

Because sometimes you don’t want to break out the candy thermometer.

The average candy bar aisle can be a little barren for vegans. You’d be lucky to find a couple of plain dark chocolate bars, and not even that if you require carob. Pretty much nothing with fillings or add-ins such as nuts, toffee or peanut butter.

I’ve done quite a few posts on homemade vegan candy and chocolates—a couple of years ago I did a full week of posts on the subject for Valentines Day. Some of them are quite elaborate and produce excellent results. But sometimes you just want an easy treat without a lot of fuss and labor.

This recipe is the best balance I’ve found between easiness and still producing a recognizable candy bar with all the elements you miss from pre-vegan store-bought candy bars: layers of toffee, crunch, nuts, peanut butter and chocolate, all without needing a candy thermometer or the bother of hand-dipping in chocolate.
To me, it tastes most like a combination of a Butterfinger and a Heath bar or Almond Roca. Yum!

Safety note: even thought we're not using a candy thermometer here, we're still dealing with hot sugar, aka culinary napalm. So be careful, please, and no kids during the hot sugar part of the recipe. They can help make the cracker sandwiches if they want, but after that they should go play away from the kitchen until it's time to eat. 
Peanut Butter Toffee Bars

Chocolate--Peanut Butter--Toffee--Cracker Candy Squares



1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
3 Tbsp smart balance light
2 Tbsp oil
dash of cinnamon

16 saltine crackers (matzo or ritz style crackers may be substituted)
about 3 Tbsp peanut butter (or other smooth nut butter)
1/3 cup vegan chocolate or carob chips

Optional: chopped nuts or crushed candy canes


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Filling the crackers with peanut butter

Make little sandwiches out of the crackers and peanut butter by spreading half the crackers with about a teaspoon of peanut butter each and placing the other half of the crackers on top of them.  Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray, and arrange the cracker sandwiches in a single layer across the bottom of the pan, breaking them if necessary to fit.

Place sugar, maple syrup, smart balance light, oil and cinnamon in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, stirring once a minute, until the mixture forms large foamy bubbles.

Foamy bubbles

Toffee poured over crackers
Wearing oven mitts, carefully pour the sugar mixture over the cracker sandwiches. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes, until the butterscotch is fairly brown (but not black).

While the bars are baking, melt the chocolate or carob chips in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds. This took me about 1 minute 15 seconds, but that may vary.

When the bars come out of the oven, pour the melted chocolate on top and spread it out in an even layer using a spatula or the back of fork. Sprinkle with nuts or candy, if using. Let cool until the chocolate is completely hard.

Flip the bars out on to a plate and break them into pieces. They should break into fairly even squares along the borders of the cracker sandwiches.

Note: if you cook the sugar mixture for a shorter amount of time in the microwave, it will come out less like hard toffee and more like soft, oozy caramel. However, the bars will not hold together as well or come out of the pan very easily. It’s your call.

vegan candy bars

As far as the toppings are concerned, you can achieve a number of different effects. You may find you like salted, toasted or even spiced nuts better. The candy cane version would be nice during the holidays.

Vegan Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

These are intended to be a vegan substitute for those  classic bake-sale cookies that have a Hershey's kiss or peanut butter cup pressed in the middle. With peanut butter stirred right into the chocolate, it tastes like a mix of the two.

Unlike jam thumbprints, you don't really want to fill these before baking. After is better.

Vegan Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, fresh from the oven


Vegan Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies


Your favorite vegan cookie recipe—can be sugar cookies, shortbread, peanut butter cookies, chocolate cookies, oatmeal cookies, etc—scaled to make about 18 cookies.

heaping 1/3 cup chocolate or carob chips
2 Tbsp peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1-3 Tbsp soymilk


Bake cookies as usual. While they are still warm and soft, press the back of a ½ teaspoon into the middle of each cookie to form an indentation.

Oatmeal cookies, with indentations

Microwave chocolate/carob chips, peanut butter, and soy milk together for 1 to 1½ minutes, stirring and mashing every 30 seconds, until melted and smooth.

Spoon the chocolate mixture into the indentations in the cookies. Let them cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator.

Note: Use the smaller amount of soymilk for firm, Hershey’s kiss-like chocolate centers. Use the higher amount for soft, ganache-like centers.

Cooling and setting

Variation: Sprinkle the chocolate centers with chopped nuts, coconut flakes or crushed candy canes before the chocolate filling sets, or press a vegan marshmallow on top.

Sugar Free Vegan Cashew Shortbread Cookies

Sugar free desserts can sometimes suffer from texture issues due to the fact that sugar substitutes can only replace the sweetness of sugar, not its chemical or physical properties. One of the physical properties of sugar is a tenderizing effect on gluten, without which sugar-free desserts can become dense, gummy or bread-like.

There are different ways to combat this problem. One would be to lower the gluten content by cutting the wheat based flour with gluten-free flours. Another is to add oat bran, ground nuts or cocoa powder, all of which have the ability to interrupt strands of gluten and prevent them from getting too long and tough.

These shortbread cookies use a third option: limiting gluten development by restricting water content. Gluten is already present in the flour, but it does not develop its rubber band-like physical properties until combined with water and mixed or kneaded. Keeping water content low keeps the cookies tender and crumbly, the way shortbread should be.

Vegan Cashew Shortbread Cookies


Sugar Free Cashew Shortbread Cookies


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
Stevia or splenda equivalent to 6 Tbsp of sugar
1/8 tsp cardamom
dash of salt
5 Tbsp oil
4 tsp water or soy milk
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp coconut extract

¼ cup cashew pieces  (not whole)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together the flour, cardamom, salt and sweetener (only if sweetener is dry. If sweetener is liquid, add it with the wet ingredients). Measure in the wet ingredients and stir to combine, using your fingers if necessary.

Roll dough into a 1½ inch wide log and slice off 3/8 inch rounds. Take each round and press and shape with hands to firm it up. Place cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle tops of cookies with cashew pieces and press down lightly to help them stick.

Pressing the cashews to the tops

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, rotating cookie sheet once, until cookies are golden around the edges and fragrant. Don’t let the cashews burn.

Let cool and enjoy. Makes about 20 small cookies.


The cashews can be replaced with any other nut as well as sesame seeds or coconut flakes.
Shortbread cookies can also be made in a wide variety of flavors by changing the extracts and spices.

If you wanted to try these cookies with real sugar instead of sweetener, you should be prepared to add a little extra water or soymilk to get the dough to come together.

These went over pretty well. They’re fast and easy, so it’s easy to whip them up at the last minute to round out your dessert platter in case of an unexpected diabetic guest : ). The recipe can be halved or quartered if you only need a few cookies.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Waldorf Salad Pockets with Baked Tofu

I’ve always rather liked Waldorf Salad and have made different vegan versions over the years. This time I decided to try more of a main-dish take on it. It turned out nicely—quite refreshing and rather summery, even though the non-seasonal ingredients make it easy to make year-round.

I rather like recipes like this that can be made ahead in volume and served cold. They can come in handy during busy times. Whether it’s the joyful chaos of a family wedding or new baby, or the less pleasant stress of a loved one in the hospital, it’s nice know there’s a big bowl in your fridge waiting for anyone passing through who needs a meal on the go. When it’s something wholesome and well rounded with protein, fruits and veggies that will really nourish people and keep them going when they need it the most, that’s even better. Other recipes I’ve used for this purpose include Quinoa Salad, Mashed Garbanzo and Artichoke Spread, and Tofu Salad Sandwich Filling.

Vegan Waldorf Salad Pockets


Waldorf Salad Pockets with Baked Tofu

1 ½ lbs tofu, baked according to this recipe (or store-bought baked tofu)

3 large apples, diced into ½ inch pieces (not peeled)
1 12 oz package of broccoli slaw
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup vegan mayonaisse
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar or sweetener (more or less to taste)
½ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp ground ginger

salt and pepper to taste

Pita pockets or other flatbread


Dicing the baked tofu
Dice the baked tofu into bite-sized pieces; set aside.
Whisk together all dressing ingredients until completely smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, combine tofu, apples, broccoli slaw, dried cranberries, and walnuts. Add dressing and stir until well coated. Taste and adjust seasoning and sweetness.

Baked Tofu Waldorf Salad

Warm your pitas if you wish, then stuff your Waldorf salad inside. Enjoy!

Makes quite a bit—at least 8-10 large servings.


Waldorf salads sometimes contain diced celery or onions; those would both be welcome additions. The dried cranberries can be replaced with other dried fruits, such as cherries or raisins.

The walnuts could be substituted with almonds or pecans. The proportions of various ingredients can be adjusted to your taste as well (e.g. double the amount of nuts and halve the craisins).

The amount or composition of the dressing may be tweaked as well.

It would be quite authentic to serve the salad on a lettuce leaf instead of the pita, too.

Vegan Options for Dressing Fruit Salads:  

I like to make fruit salads, and since the dressing is usually the only non-vegan component, I’ve tried a number of different things over the years. Here are the basic options:

Fruit Salad, dressed with vegan yogurt
            Vegan yogurt is an excellent choice for dessert style fruit salads because of its sweetness. Its high sugar content may be undesirable in more savory recipes though (such as the one above) as well as nutritionally problematic for some people. The best flavors of vegan yogurt for fruit salads are vanilla, plain and lemon, although you could get more adventurous if you wanted to.

            Vegan sour cream is nice and creamy, richer and less sweet than yogurt, so it can be used in savory recipes. It may be less nutritious due to higher fat content and some even contain trans fat, however.

            Vegan mayo is arguably the best of both worlds nutritionally, much lower in sugar than vegan yogurt and lower in fat than vegan sour cream. Also one of very few specialty vegan staples that actually comes in reduced fat and even fat-free varieties (although availability varies by locale). It’s a very effective dressing base not just for fruit salads but also green/veggie salads. It benefits from being jazzed up a little with extra flavors like lemon juice, onion powder and sweetener. 

            Vegan “buttermilk” is not something you buy, it’s something you make by combining non-dairy milk with lemon juice or vinegar. For baking, the ratio is one tablespoon lemon juice to a scant cup of non-dairy milk, but for dressings I like it tangier. I use about one tablespoon of lemon juice per quarter-cup non-dairy milk, then sweeten and flavor to taste. Vegan buttermilk is not as thick as the other sauce options, so a smaller amount (1/2 to 2/3) should be used to prevent runniness. The advantages to using the “buttermilk” over the other sauce options are that it’s very economical and uses widely available ingredients—depending on where you live, soymilk and lemon juice may be much easier to get a hold of than specialty vegan yogurts, sour creams and mayos. It tastes pretty good too, especially if sweetened, and the lemon juice makes it effective at preventing oxidation in the fruit.

            Non creamy sauces for fruit salads are often vegan already with no modification. They can be based off of fruit juices, sugar syrups or vinaigrettes.

            No sauce at all: there’s nothing to say that a fruit salad has to be dressed with a sauce in the first place. If the fruit is on the juicy side, it’ll sauce itself. : )

Vegan Waldorf Salad with Baked Tofu and Broccoli Slaw

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Taste of Spring: Vegan Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry-Rhubarb is usually one of the first pies of the produce season. Strawberry and rhubarb get paired up because they have similar growing seasons and of course, because their flavors and textures are so compatible. They have a certain magic together that the two of them lack separately. 

Rhubarb is easiest to find at farmer's markets and some health food stores. The stalk is the only edible part; do not try to eat the leaves or anything else--some parts of the rhubarb plant are not only inedible but poisonous. Another name for rhubarb is "Pie Plant," and there's a reason for it: the distinct tang and jam-like texture of cooked rhubarb makes an exceptionally good pie filling, both alone and in combination with a variety of other fruits, particularly sweet ones that could use some extra tanginess.


Vegan Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Crumble Topping


Vegan Strawberry Rhubarb Pie


1 prepared pie crust, either crumb or pastry style

3 cup chopped rhubarb
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen strawberries, halved
1 cup sugar or sweetener
1/3 cup flour
½ tsp cinnamon
dash of cardamom

¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup ground almonds or walnuts (other nuts okay too)
½ cup sugar or sweetener
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
dash salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½ Tbsp water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Make topping: Stir together flour, ground nuts, sugar/sweetener, spices and salt. Drizzle in oil and water. Mix into crumbs with fingers; set aside.

Strawberry -Rhubarb Filling

Mix together dry ingredients for the filling; stir in fruit. Pour filling into pie crust. Sprinkle topping evenly over top.

With nutty crumble topping

Bake pie for 45 minutes, covering with foil halfway through if the topping starts to brown too much.

Let cool for 30-60 minutes before slicing.


If strawberries aren't an option for some reason (availability, allergies, etc.) you could substitute an equal amount of diced ripe mango for a really delicious variation.

Now the only trouble is waiting to slice into it...

Vegan Mock Runny Egg, on Toast or an English Muffin

This is intended as a vegan substitute for the various egg preparations that include a cooked egg white and a runny yolk, such as over-easy sunny-side up, soft boiled, or poached eggs.

When I make substitute recipes like this, my goal is not really to make an exact replica but to imitate only the aspects I like best, without slavishly trying to mimic details that are insignificant or even negative. That is why I haven’t made a great deal of effort to give my mock eggs the exact shape and appearance of real eggs. The small cubes of tofu cook more quickly and consistently than large egg-like ovals would, and are easier to eat as well. I’m also one of those vegans who find the sulfurous odor of real eggs repellant rather than appealing, so I have steered clear of black salt, which is usually intended replicate that effect in egg substitutes.

Overall, I was pleased with the result of this recipe. It’s not overly rich (particularly if you use the Smart Balance Light instead of full-fat margarine) so it pairs nicely with richer breakfast/brunch offerings, such as hashbrowns or waffles.  

Vegan Mock Runny Egg on Whole Grain Toast


Vegan Mock Runny Egg on Toast

1 lb firm or extra firm tofu, diced into ½ to ¾ inch cubes
onion salt

Mock Yolk Sauce:
½ cup unsweetened soy milk
½ cup water
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp dill weed (optional-omit if you don’t want green flecks)
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp salt
dash or two of paprika
1 Tbsp vegan margarine or reduced fat oil spread (I used Smart Balance Light)

6 to 8 pieces of whole grain toast (or 3-4 vegan english muffins, split in half)

vegan bacon substitute, optional (any kind you like)

tofu cubes
First, get the tofu started: Spray a nonstick pan lightly with cooking spray. Spread tofu cubes into a single layer and bring to medium heat. Cook until golden on the bottom, about 8 minutes (time will vary according to pan and stove). During this time, occasionally press down on the tofu with the back of your spatula to help extract moisture and get a good sear. When ready, flip the tofu and cook the other side for 4-5 minutes more, until the tofu is golden brown on both sides and has a nice firm texture. Sprinkle the tofu with onion salt to taste and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare your optional vegan bacon, if you’re including it.

making the sauce
And to make your yolk sauce: Mix together cornstarch, nutritional yeast, and seasonings in a small saucepan and slowly whisk in the soymilk and water. Cook over medium heat until it bubbles lightly and thickens to your liking. Stir in the margarine/oil spread and let it melt.

And finally, to assemble: Toast your whole grain bread or English muffins. Spread them with a little more margarine/oil spread if you like. Arrange a layer of tofu cubes on each piece, and ladle some sauce over top. Place a few slices of vegan bacon on top if you wish. Enjoy!

On an English Muffin

Mock egg yolk sauce over veggies
You’ll probably end up with some extra sauce, so feel free to try it drizzled over some hash browns or sopped up with a soft biscuit. It’s also good over steamed veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, or asparagus.

In a related note, I tried a new vegan product recently. It is called Bacon Seitan, and it’s just simple seitan flavored and colored with paprika and smoke flavoring, then sliced very thinly. There are no instructions or serving suggestions on the package, so I just winged it by laying them out on a cookie sheet and baking them for 8 minutes at 400. It turned out to have more of chewy texture instead of super crunchy one, but I rather liked it. It had good flavor and curled up around the edges authentically.

It’s a very lean product as is, so you would probably get a more bacon-esque result if you pan-fried it in some oil to give it richness and crunch. Or you could just embrace the leanness (I kind of consider it a perk). The overall effect is not unlike turkey bacon, which is what I actually ate many years ago as a meat-eater anyway. Overall, I liked it fairly well, and it went nicely on top of my mock-runny egg toasts. I have never really been a connoisseur of bacon though, so your mileage may vary.

Mock Runny Egg on an English Muffin with Seitan Bacon

For other mock egg recipes, try my Vegan Tofu Omelet, Scrambled Tofu Rancheros, or Tofu Salad Sandwiches.