Monday, December 26, 2011

This year's Christmas Feast

Pumpkin Lasagna (before baking)

I decided to make this for Christmas this year because I was a little short on time and energy and needed something easy but festive. It comes together pretty fast if you do the no boil version.


Pumpkin Lasagna

Tofu artichoke filling:
2 1-lb packages firm tofu, mashed coarsely
1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup chopped onion (I used frozen)
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp bouquet garni or similar seasoning mix
¾ tsp salt
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
a dash or two of lemon pepper

1 29 oz can pumpkin puree
½ cup soymilk
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp sage
a dash or two each onion and garlic powder
up to 1/3 cup sweetener

lasagna noodles
soy cheese or more nutritional yeast or breadcrumbs (optional)

Mash tofu until it is crumbled into small chunks.  Add other filling ingredients and stir well. 

Stir together pumpkin with soymilk, spices and sweetener.

Mid-Assembly
At this point you can either precook the lasagna noodles or not.  This is a moist recipe that will actually work with raw noodles if you like. This would save time and result in a final product that is firmer and holds together better. If you are more comfortable cooking the noodles though, go ahead.

Assemble the lasagna: Spread a thin layer of pumpkin sauce over the bottom of your baking pan. Place a layer of noodles on top. Next comes a portion of the tofu filling, then more sauce, more noodles, etc repeated until everything is used up. The last two layers should be noodles then sauce, with the noodles well covered enough to keep from getting crunchy.  Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, breadcrumbs, or another crunchy topping if you like. If you want to put a little shredded soy cheese on top, I’d wait until the last ten minutes.

Cover pan with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F.



Variations: 

The tofu filling works just as well in a standard tomato lasagna.

You could also add cubed roasted butternut squash to either the sauce or the filling for more texture.

A bechamel would be a nice addition for a creamier final product.

For more lasagna variations, see this post.


Partially decimated


Sunday, December 18, 2011

C is for Cookie

Here is a nicely flavored golden cookie that I like to make for the holidays.  The cornmeal gives them a rich, almost buttery flavor, and keeps them crispy, not cake-like.

Vegan Crispy Cornmeal Sugar Cookies

Fresh baked Cornmeal Sugar Cookies



Dry:
¾ cup flour (I used whole wheat pastry)
¼ cup cornmeal
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
a dash or two of nutmeg and/or cinnamon (optional)
Wet:
1/6 cup oil  
1/6 cup soymilk
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla (or more)
¼ tsp almond extract (optional)
¼ tsp coconut extract (optional)
½ cup turbinado sugar

Whisk together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients. To measure those awkward 1/6 cups, just fill a 1/3 cup measuring cup half full of the oil, then fill it the rest of the way with soymilk. Stir the wet mix into the dry mix. It may be helpful to use your hands. Form the stiff dough into a ball or disk.  If you wish, you can chill the dough at this point.  It’s not totally necessary but chilling will help prevent sticky dough. And the dough can be put back in the fridge for a few minutes anytime it starts getting obstreperous.

Rolling out the dough
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Roll out half the dough to a thickness of 1/8 to ¼ inch. Thicker will make softer cookies that may take longer to cook; thinner will make crunchier cookies that are more prone to burning. 

Cutting out the shapes
Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Bake for about eight minutes.  They should look a little underdone.

While the first batch bakes, roll out the rest of the dough and finish cutting shapes.
Bake the second batch.  Roll out and shape any remaining dough and bake.

Makes 2 dozen medium size cookies


Decorating: You can frost these if you like, either simply or with elaborate piping and painting. Candies, sprinkles, nuts, or coconut can be placed on top before the frosting dries. You could also sprinkle the raw cookies with turbinado sugar or colored sugar sprinkles before baking. You can use a butter knife or similar implement to create grooves, patterns or other details in the raw cookies before baking.  Food coloring can also be added directly to the dough for tinted cookies. The last two options work well for sugar free cookies.
Frosted with sprinkles


Variations:

Poppy seed: Add 1-2 tbsp poppy seeds to dry ingredients

Lemon or Lime: Replace extracts with up to a couple teaspoons of lemon or lime zest. You could also replace some or all of the soymilk with lemon juice.  If you want them nice and tangy you should also consider omitting the baking soda (because it cancels out acid) and increasing the baking powder to 1 ¼ tsp.

Stained Glass Cookies: Cut window holes in the middle of each cookie before baking, being sure to place cookies on foil or parchment paper.  Crush transparent colored hard candies, keeping colors separate. Halfway through baking, pull cookies out and fill cavities with crushed candies (1/2 to 1 tsp candy per cookie, depending on size of holes).  Return to oven and finish baking for 4 more minutes. Don’t try to remove the cookies until they’re cool, and do so somewhat gingerly with a spatula when they are ready.

Peppermint: Replace almond and coconut extracts with ½ tsp peppermint extract and decorate with crushed peppermint candies.

Sugar free: These do pretty well with sweetener; the cornmeal makes the texture more forgiving than most cookies. You may want to use slightly more equivalent sweetener than you would sugar to make up for the sweetness you won’t get from frosting or sprinkles (which are sugary).                                                                                                                                                                       

All packaged up and ready for gifting


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Seitan Pot Pie with Mushrooms and Pearl Onions

I mentioned this dish in the last post so I thought I’d give you the recipe. This is what I had for Thanksgiving this year, and it went over pretty well! I liked that it satisfied my appetite for more than one Thanksgiving dish at once with its gravy and biscuits and veggies all mixed together.


Seitan Pot Pie with Mushrooms and Pearl Onions

8 oz. sliced mushrooms
10 oz. pearl onions, peeled if fresh, thawed if frozen
2 8 oz packages seitan, sliced into thin strips
1 tbsp minced garlic
2-3 tablespoons oil, more if necessary
1 ¼ tsp dried parsley
¼ tsp dried marjoram
¼ tsp dried savory
¼ tsp dried rosemary (crunched up a bit)
¼ tsp dried thyme
Salt and pepper and/or lemon pepper seasoning to taste

3 Tbsp flour
3 cups low sodium vegetable broth (or water + bouillon/broth powder)
Up to 1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tsp water (optional)
1 or 2 tsp soy sauce

9-10 uncooked biscuits (dough), either frozen or homemade


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sauté mushrooms, onions, seitan, and garlic until browned, either separately in batches or all together in a big pan, using whatever oil or cooking spray is necessary. Stir in herbs and seasonings and pour it all into your casserole pan, distributing ingredients evenly so some of everything will be in each serving.

Now, make the gravy.  For the roux, put 2 tbsp oil into the same pan used for sauteing (no need to wash it in between) and add the 3 tbsp flour. Stir together with your spatula and cook over fairly low heat, continuing to stir, until slightly browned. Add broth and simmer for 3-4 minutes while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. Try to mash any clumps that occur. At this point examine your gravy to see if it has thickened adequately.  If not, add the cornstarch and water and cook a minute or two longer.

Add soy sauce to gravy and stir.  It’s not a bad idea to taste it at this point and add salt, pepper and/or lemon pepper if necessary.  Don’t be too generous, though, as it may get stronger once it’s mixed with other ingredients and cooked. When you’re satisfied, pour gravy over the seitan and vegetables in casserole pan.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Pull dish out of the oven and carefully place biscuits over the top of dish.  Bake about 15 minutes more, until biscuits are fully cooked and golden brown.

Note:  I've made this with only half the seitan before, and it worked fine. It's just not as high protein that way.

Variations:   

The vegetables can be changed: potatoes, carrots or peas would be typical choices.  The protein could be switched out for various fake meats, tempeh, or even beans (garbanzos or butter beans would be my top choices). 

The gravy could be turned into a creamier sauce by switching part or all of the broth with soymilk.
The topping could be changed to a pie crust or puff pastry, in which case you would want to put the topping on at the beginning of the baking time instead of partway through.
The seasonings could be changed too. Cajun or curry flavors might be interesting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vegan Thanksgiving Main Dish Ideas

Ah, the old dilemma: how to put your own vegan stamp on a holiday that is very much About the Bird.  There are a few of approaches to take: trying to approximate the original (meaty) dish rather closely in flavor and texture, going for something completely different but nonetheless festive, or meeting somewhere in the middle, with a dish that replicates some of the traditional flavor profiles but has its own unique qualities too.  In the past I’ve gone in all three directions at various times.  They all have their merits; it just comes down to personal taste and the amount of labor you want to put in that year.

In general, I like to make sure the nutrition of my main dish dovetails nicely with the rest of the meal.  If I’m doing the traditional thanksgiving carb-stravagaza, with a half dozen starch heavy side dishes and desserts (stuffing, potatoes, yams, rolls, cranberries, multiple pies, etc.) I like my main dish to be mostly protein to balance it out.  However, if I’m having a simplified meal without the sides, I might want something that’s a balanced meal all by itself.

Here are some nice options for a festive vegan meal:

  1. Tofurkey or other commercial veggie roast
The most obvious choice, right? And one I do chose from time to time, although probably not as often as some carnivores might think. When I do opt for it, I generally jazz it up with a big platter of veggies roasted alongside it, things like wedges of onion, mushrooms, and whole carrots that all caramelize in the oven. Fennel or potatoes would be nice too. And I make a nice glaze out of olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, herbs and spices, and a more unusual ingredient: a jelly or jam of my choosing to sweeten and brighten. I’ve used various types, with marmalade or apricot being the subtlest, and raspberry or pomegranate being a bit bolder. Be sure to brush the sauce lightly over the veggies too.

  1. Homemade veggie roast
Making your own roast has the benefit of being cheaper, and also you can customize it according to your own taste. I personally often find the commercial roasts just a bit too salty, and that’s hard to correct.  There are all kinds of different recipes out there with various preparation methods and ingredients.  Seitan-based ones are probably the most common.  My favorite is a stovetop veggie pot roast that makes it own gravy from a puree of the veggies (onions, garlic, carrots, and a secret ingredient: one sour apple) that are simmered in the same pot, and best of all, frees up the oven for pie, pie, and more pie.
Variations
  • And of course you can deconstruct the shape of your roast all you want.  If you make little cutlets you could bread them with cornmeal or ground nuts mixed with thanksgiving spices such as sage, rosemary, parsley and thyme.  Or you could layer a flat length of seitan with various stuffings or sauces and roll it up roulade style.

  1. Veggie Meatloaf
This is typically a bit easier than your homemade roast with the same classic comfort food appeal.  My favorite version is made from a base of half lentils, half TVP, stabilized with a little gluten for structure.  To dress it up I like to spread a thick layer of mashed potatoes over the top before baking.

  1. Pot Pie
This is what I’m going for this year.  There are a lot of different directions you can go in with this one—everything from classic fall herbs to curries, Cajun spices, Latin flavors, or even the French Canadian version with sweet spices like cinnamon, and the sauces can be gravy-like, creamy, tomato-ey, etc.  You can stuff them with meat substitutes or tofu, with beans or lentils (butter beans are particularly nice) or with just plain vegetables and nothing else.
The crust can be anything from classic pastry to biscuits, cornbread, polenta, or even just potatoes.


Seitan-Mushroom-Pearl Onion Pot Pie with Biscuit topping



Polenta Tamale Pie

  1. Protein-embellished stuffing
Sometimes a side dish can become a main dish with just a little tweaking.  Vegan sausage would go very nicely in a classic cornbread stuffing.  Meatballs, cubes of seitan or baked tofu, and even basic beans or lentils would all make good mix-ins as well.  If you don’t want to mix them in directly, they can be cooked in a gravy-like sauce and spooned over the top of each serving.

  1. Pumpkin Lasagna
If you’ve never tried this combination of flavors before, you’re in for a treat.  Die-hard pumpkin haters should probably steer clear, but for the rest of us the sweet-and-sour combination can be very appealing. To modify a regular lasagna recipe into a pumpkin, replace the tomato sauce with pumpkin puree (canned is fine).  You can either keep the spices the same or modify them by going toward more traditional pumpkin spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. In the latter case I would add a couple tablespoons of sweetener to enhance the effect.  A filling that is tangy would pair best with the sweet pumpkin sauce.
Variations: 
    • Sweet potato lasagna works just as well.
    • Regular lasagna and its variations can be pretty fancy and festive as well.  I have a post different ways to jazz up lasagna; you can check the tags at right.

  1. Stuffed veggies have great presentation, and give a bit of a nod to Thanksgiving traditions as well.  They can be quite impressive if done well.
Things that can be stuffed: peppers, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, winter squash, cabbage rolls, etc. Even apples and other fruits can be stuffed for a sweet/savory effect.  The stuffing may be based on rice or other grains, small shaped pasta, or bread cubes, and have various things mixed in, such as beans/lentils, faux meats, other veggies and herbs and even occasionally dried fruit.

Spaghetti Squash stuffed with beans, veggies, and marinara sauce

  1. Casserole
Certain casseroles are already common at thanksgiving, creamy green bean or pearl onion casseroles being probably the most typical. So any similar dishes would not seem out of place.
To make a high protein vegan substitute for the canned condensed cream soups so often called for in such recipes, sauté whatever vegetable is relevant (e.g. mushrooms for cream of mushroom soup) along with some garlic and seasonings, possibly including a veggie bullion of some kind, then stir in a package of silken tofu, pureed.  Use this mixture like you would the soup, adjusting seasonings (generally they will need increased) as needed.

  1. Soup
Warm and comforting, soup already seems compatible with a thanksgiving meal.  The type can be chosen to match typical holiday ingredients, such as pumpkin or potato, to fit even better. 

  1. Pilaf
The difference between your average pilaf and a rice-based dressing is mainly semantics, particularly if typical thanksgiving flavorings are used.  This can be a good choice for a more consolidated meal with fewer sides (and fewer dishes to wash!)

  1. Miscellaneous awesome dishes
Stroganoff, mac‘n’cheese, gourmet pizza, baked beans, stir-fry—if you’ve got a tour de force vegan recipe, don’t be afraid to use it even if it seemingly has no relevance to the holiday at hand.  All the relevance it needs is that you’re there and you want to eat it. The point of the holiday is to celebrate food, family and the things you’re thankful for.  So if you’re thankful for vegan mac’n’cheese, it applies. :-)

And that is really the final message.  The ideal holiday plan is one that allows for enjoyment, relaxation, and togetherness.  Vegans sometimes feel an increased pressure at holidays—to prove themselves and their choices worthwhile, from expected friction with family on the subject, and from the knowledge that whatever they themselves bring had better be good, because no one else is going to bring anything they can eat.  So there’s nothing wrong with letting go and making yourself happy (and thankful!) in whatever little ways you can, whether or not it follows the rules or impresses anybody.  After all, when celebration is on the menu, perfection doesn’t matter nearly as much as joy and sincerity. So try and have some fun if you can. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Taste of Autumn


The shortened days, the sidewalks and lawns now festooned with fallen leaves, and the persistent chill in the air—all of these things signal a reminder of what we’d all rather forget: that summer is officially over, and winter is steadily approaching.  But fall can have its rewards, and festive comfort food is one of them.

This recipe makes use of two cheap seasonal ingredients: squash and apples. The two are sweetened and spiced to produce a flavor reminiscent of Thanksgiving pies and roasted until warm and comforting. 

I like this recipe a lot. It’s a tasty dessert that’ll cheer you up on a cold evening, and give you two servings of vegetables and one of fruit in the process.  Not bad!

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Spiced Apples



2 Acorn squashes
2 medium apples
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup sugar or sweetener
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 TBSP chopped crystallized ginger
½ tbsp maple syrup (optional)
up to a tbsp margarine or oil for richness (optional, I usually omit)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut squashes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits.  Spray a baking pan with cooking spray and place the squash on it cut side down.  Bake for 30 minutes.
A few minutes before the time is up, chop the apples into ½ inch dice, peeling if desired, and toss immediately with lemon juice to prevent browning.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients.
When the 30 minutes are up, take the squash out of the oven and carefully flip them over.  Spoon the apple mixture into the squash cavities, distributing it evenly between the four halves, and being sure not to waste any of the juices left in the mixing bowl. Cover the dish and bake for 30 to 45 minutes more until both the squash and the apples are fork tender.

Let cool enough to be safe (the juices can be pretty hot), but serve warm.
Each squash half makes one fairly generous serving.

Variations: 

Pears work just as well as apples. You may want to decrease the sweetener and cooking time, though.

Different types of squash and pumpkin work okay too. If the type you choose isn’t sized for individual serving, you can bring the whole thing to the table and let people scoop out their own servings.

You can change the spices and flavorings, of course.  You can simplify them, or make them stronger. Anise would be an interesting touch, and lemon zest would add a bright zing.

Adding some dried fruit and nuts would give a mincemeat-like effect.

You could add a crunchy streusel topping to dress up the dessert and make it richer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Salsas and Salads and Slaws, Oh My!


The sun is shining, the veggies are growing, and it is officially the Season of Salad.  It’s a great time to turn over a new leaf on getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and to pull out the recipes that taste great without heating up the house. Here are some of the fresh summery dishes I’ve been enjoying lately.

Pico de Gallo (mild)
This is a mild fresh salsa that’s really healthy and refreshing.  It’s also a pretty painless way to get some extra veggie servings in without even noticing.

4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 medium sweet white onion, chopped
¼ to ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
salt and pepper to taste {can substitute lemon pepper or similar low salt seasonings)

Just chop everything up and mix it together. Simple as that!
Serve it with chips or use it as a topping or condiment.

Note: if you can’t get sweet onions, use regular and add a couple teaspoons of sweetener.

Variations:
Spicier Pico de Gallo: add one or two hot peppers of your choice, seeding or not according to the heat you want (leaving some or all seeds in = much hotter).

Mango Pico de Gallo: Add one chopped mango or similar fruit (peach, pineapple or kiwi might be nice). This is a nice sunny version.

Italian Pico de Gallo:  Don’t like cilantro? Try using fresh parsley or basil instead.

More potential add-ins to toss in: beans (black are particularly nice), bell peppers, chopped avocadoes, various crunchy fresh veggies such as celery or even some steamed veggies such as asparagus tips.
The sky’s the limit. However, I admit the basic version is the one I use most often.

Pico de Gallo and Guacamole

Guacamole

3-4 medium avocadoes
1/3 cup Pico de Gallo or other chunky fresh cut salsa
1 tbsp lemon or lime juice (or more to taste)
pinch of cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Halve the avocadoes and scoop out the flesh. Add the lemon juice and mash with a fork or potato masher. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and adjust to taste.

Variations: Any of the Pico de Gallo variations will work here. The mango version is particularly nice.

You can also make a lower fat version by extending the avocados with pureed peas or other green vegetables, in which case I would probably add some onion and garlic powder to jazz up the flavor.

Foolproof trick to keep guacamole from turning brown:  The discoloration is from oxidation, which means the avocado is reacting to oxygen in the air.  Therefore if you block the air, it won’t happen. What you do is when you’re ready to store your leftover guacamole, spread an even layer of refried beans or other thick spread on top, making sure there are no gaps and the guacamole is completely covered. Then put a lid on the dish and put it in the fridge.  When you’re ready to eat either scrape off the bean layer or eat it as a layer dip.

Guacamole with its blanket of refried beans


Coleslaw

1 lb shredded cabbage and/or other coleslaw veggies
2-3 tbsp dried fruit, chopped if large (cranberries and apricots are good choices)
1 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger, optional

Dressing:
1/3 cup Nayonaise, Vegenaise or homemade vegan mayo
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp sweetener of choice (equivalent to 2 packets)
a generous dash of dill
a dash of mustard powder
1 tbsp oil (optional—I often leave it out to save calories)

Stir together dressing ingredients in large bowl until homogenous. Add cabbage and toss very thoroughly until completely moistened—keep stirring a little longer than you think you should. The trick to great coleslaw that isn’t soggy is to use a smallish amount of dressing but have it very well distributed and absorbed.  When you first start stirring it will look too dry and like you need to add more dressing, but after a few minutes of thorough mixing it will start to look better and you’ll glad you didn’t add too much.  There’s nothing worse than a few soggy leaves swimming in a sea of goop.
Add the dried fruit (which adds great texture and flavor) and ginger if using. Keep chilled.

Variations:
There are a lot of vegetables that can be made into a slaw both on their own and in combination, including: different colors of cabbage, broccoli slaw (which is made from shredded broccoli stems), shredded carrots, daikon and other radishes (yum!), tough greens such as kale, onions, zucchini and frankly pretty much any vegetable that can be shredded and eaten fresh. Some flavorings might need to be adjusted to bring out the best flavor in alternate veggies (see carrot salad below).

The dressing can be replaced with pretty much any type of tangy salad dressing, bottled or homemade. It’s probably best if it’s a little on the thick side, but it doesn’t have to be creamy—a vinaigrette will work too. Use 1/3 to ½ cup dressing for a pound of shredded veggies.

Tricolor Coleslaw with dried cranberries

Carrot-Cranberry Salad

1 lb shredded carrots
1/3 to ½ cup dried cranberries (or more if you like)
Coleslaw dressing (above) minus mustard
An extra 4 tsp (2 more packets) sweetener or sugar
A generous dash of cinnamon.

Stir together dressing, then add rest of ingredients. Adjust sweetener and amount of fruit to taste.

Carrot-Cranberry Salad

Cauliflower salad

Here’s a salad I made for the 4th. It’s a basic creamy potato salad style dressing that’s tossed with steamed cauliflower instead of potatoes.  It went over pretty well.  The original idea comes from Hungry Girl. I veganized it and adjusted it some based on personal taste. One touch I particularly liked was that the dressing was extended with a couple cups more cauliflower, pureed. That made it lower in fat as well.

I’d never had steamed cauliflower cold and tossed with dressing before. It was surprisingly good that way, although of course not an exact match for potatoes. A combination of half cauliflower and half potatoes might be something to try.

Cauliflower "Potato" Salad

Dessert Salsa/ Fruit Salad

This is basically just a typical fruit salad that has been chopped more finely than usual in order to imitate salsa visually, and so that it can be scooped up on sweet cinnamon chips. It’s a fun presentation.  The salsa can also be served up on waffles or pancakes or even on top of grilled pound cake for a kind of mock bruschetta.

3-4 Cups mixed fruit, chopped finely
½ tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tbsp sweetener
1-2 tbsp jam or preserves (flavor of your choice)
1 ½ tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
a dash of cinnamon
A handful of flaked coconut (optional)
2-3 mint leaves, chopped finely (optional, mainly for looks)

Chop everything up and mix it together, adjusting sweetness and flavoring to taste. Serve with cinnamon chips (below).

There are a lot of good fruit choices for this. I think that tropical fruits and berries are particularly nice. The important thing is to incorporate some contrasting flavors and colors.  A combination of red, white and green would look the most like regular salsa.

The fruits I used in the picture are mango, pineapple, green apple, coconut (is coconut a fruit or a nut, anyway?) and boysenberry preserves to bind it together.
Other fruits that would be awesome include kiwi, peach, strawberry, pomegranate arils, mandarin oranges, blueberries, apricots, other kinds of apples and asian pears (what a great texture those would have!).  Canned or frozen fruit is fine too as long as it’s well drained.

Dessert Salsa

Baked Cinnamon Chips

2-3 whole grain tortillas
oil or cooking spray
cinnamon and sugar or sweetener


Preheat to 350 degrees F.
Cut the tortillas into eight wedges each.  Lightly spray 2 cookie sheets.  Spread wedges out on sheets, keeping them from touching or overlapping. Give the tops of the wedges another light spritz of cooking spray and then sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 10-12 minutes until crispy but not burnt.  Watch closely if you’ve got an erratic oven.

Variation: Use different flavorings to make a savory chip.  One of my favorite versions is to brush the wedges with lime juice and sprinkle them with garlic salt before baking.


Baked Cinnamon Chips (with salsa)


Well there you have it: no less than six recipes for nourishing summer fun. Stay cool out there…and full of veggies!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grilled Apple, Avocado and “Cheese” Sandwiches

Using vital wheat gluten in the sauce gives it a cheese-like stringiness and ups the protein content.



Grilled Apple, Avocado and “Cheese” Sandwiches

1/3 cup nutritional yeast (heaping)
1/3 cup vital wheat gluten (heaping)
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
1/8 to ¼ tsp lemon pepper seasoning (plus a dash per sandwich)
A dash of mustard powder
1-2 dashes salt (up to 1/8 tsp)
½ to 3/4 cup water

1 avocado, sliced into ¼ inch slices
1 apple, pealed and sliced into ¼ inch slices
6-8 slices bread (depending on how many sandwiches you want)
oil or cooking spray

Directions:
Mix together “cheese” ingredients (yeast through water).  Using less water will make the cheese stringier and stretchier; using more water will make it easier to spread and will extend the sauce for more sandwiches.  I usually go for somewhere in between.
Heat the cheese sauce in the microwave or on the stove top for a minute or two until warm. Don’t cook it too much or it will start turning into seitan.

Arrange a layer of avocados over half the bread slices.  Sprinkle with lemon pepper or salt to bring out the avocado flavor. Arrange a layer of apples on top of the avocados. Spread the cheese sauce on the remaining slices of bread, and assemble the sandwiches by firmly pressing the cheese covered bread slices onto the avocado and apple covered bread slices.

Heat up a skillet, ideally nonstick, to medium to medium high heat and grease it with either cooking spray or about a teaspoon of oil. When hot enough, start grilling the sandwiches, either individually or more than one at a time depending on the size of your skillet and your talent at multitasking. Press the top of the sandwiches with your spatula periodically to ensure even browning and carefully flip when one side is done. It may take as little as 30 seconds a side or as much as a few minutes depending on heat and equipment.  The first one usually takes the longest.

Makes 3-4 sandwiches.



Variations:
Add-ins: The cheese sauce is pretty mild, so if you’d like a sharper sandwich you can add a layer of mustard, ketchup, vegan mayo, vegan cream cheese, pickles or tomatoes for tanginess. You could also add a little lemon juice to the sauce.

Technique: If you prefer, you can spread the outside of the sandwiches with margarine instead of oiling the pan. I’ve also heard of (vegan) mayo being used the same way.

A dry nonstick pan, with no added oil or margarine will work okay too.

Also, instead of cooking them on the stove you could use the broiler, taking them out and flipping them halfway.  This has the advantage of being able to cook a lot of sandwiches at once (I can fit eight on some cookie sheets).

Enjoy!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sugar Free Vegan Walnut Pie Variation

I tried the pecan pie recipe that I posted before again with some small changes.  This time it was all walnut instead of a walnut-pecan combination, and I added a handful each carob chips and shredded coconut.










I liked the carob-coconut-walnut flavor combination quite a bit. It was a bit richer than the other pie, and had deeper flavor. 

I also decided to try using cornmeal instead of flour to thicken the filling.  I found the result to be a bit gummy on the first day but pretty good on the second.  I may go back to flour in future pies or try a combination of the two.

Liven up your Lasagna!

Tips and tricks for creating exciting variations on vegan lasagna

It’s a perennial crowd pleaser.  It’s substantial, it travels and reheats well, it’s fancy enough to be impressive without being all that intimidating or difficult to put together, and last but not least, it veganizes well enough to be tolerated by most omnivores. It’s easy to see why it shows up on so many vegan menus.
That doesn’t means it can’t get boring or overdone after a while. So here’s what you can do if you’ve got a killer lasagna recipe in need of some spicing up.

1.   Change the structure

Did you know that most lasagna recipes can be easily modified into manicotti, cannelloni, stuffed shells and other recipes based on large filled or stacked pastas?
For example, if you had a spinach lasagna recipe that had alternating layers of tofu-spinach filling and marinara sauce, to modify it you would fill the inside of the manicotti tubes (cooked) with the tofu-spinach filling and put them on a bed of the marinara, then spoon more marinara on top before baking and serving.  The difference in texture and presentation makes it a whole new dish.

Tofu-Artichoke Manicotti, modified from a lasagna recipe

You can also make lasagna roll-ups, a beautiful variation.  You cook the noodles, lay them out, spread them with filling and then roll them up like cigars.  I like to cut the rolls in half and then arrange them ruffle side up, packed tightly so they don’t unravel, and then spoon tomato sauce over and around them. They look really pretty this way.

Various types of smaller pasta shapes can be layered in place of the lasagna noodles as well. It becomes kind of a baked ziti-like casserole that way.  Broken up lasagna noodles work too, and so does spaghetti.

You also don’t have to use pasta at all.  You could make a standard layered lasagna with thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini in place of the noodles for a moussaka-like effect. You could also layer in tortillas or crepes as well as matzo, toast, polenta, breadcrumbs or croutons. There are always combinations as well, such as half standard noodle and half zucchini, or a noodle layer at the top and bottom and croutons in the middle.

And if you enjoy miniatures, you could always take mini loaf pans and lasagna noodles cut into halves or thirds and make individual mini lasagnas. It’s cute and it eliminates serving difficulties.

2.   Change the sauces
Most lasagnas seem to have a three basic components: noodles, a thick, sometimes chunky filling, and a thinner sauce such as tomato in alternating layers.  Both the filling and the sauce can be changed and combined in different ways.
Here are some examples: 
  •  Basic Lasagna Bolognese, with a thick, meaty (or fake meaty ;) and slightly tomatoey ragu style filling alternating with a thin white sauce (usually béchamel) 
  • Florentine style, with a ricotta-like filling containing spinach (chard or other greens my be substituted) combined with layers of a thin tomato sauce 
  • Combinations of the above, such as the spinach filling with the béchamel for a sort of white lasagna, or a triple decker with the ragu, tofu ricotta, and béchamel all in one dish (very tasty but sort of elaborate)
  • Pesto Lasagna, with your favorite pesto either mixed into the tofu ricotta filling or thinned to replace the tomato sauce.  (FYI, while traditional pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, it can be made with any type of herb or green and any type of nut or seed or a combination.  My favorite is Kale-Almond-Walnut. Other types of vegetables, such asparagus or peas can also be used, and the nuts can also be omitted if desired. For lasagna I usually prefer a pesto that’s made with something other than basil so the leftovers don’t discolor.) 
  • Stroganoff lasagna, with a tangy and creamy mushroom filling (with or without a meat substitute added) and a white béchamel sauce
  • Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Lasagna, using a pumpkin sauce in place of the tomato. I like to flavor this one with cinnamon or nutmeg.  This is good at the holidays or for people with tomato or acidity issues.
  • The sauces and fillings themselves can also be modified: 
      • Your standard tomato sauce can be made with roasted or sun-dried tomatoes for a more intense flavor, spiced up with red pepper flakes, embellished with caramelized onions or roasted red peppers or even have the tomatoes replaced with tomatillos for a Lasagna Verde.
      • The béchamel may have herbs or spices added (nutmeg or dill would be nice), or be flavored with nutritional yeast and lemon juice to be more of a cheesy sauce, or it may be replaced with a richer and tangier alfredo style white sauce (I have a pureed white bean and roasted garlic alfredo that I like).
      • The ragu can be based on a number of things, including TVP, commercial sausage crumbles, seitan, mashed lentils, whole beans or chunky vegetables (cubed eggplant gets a particularly nice texture). Having meatballs swimming in sauce for a filling is a pretty cool variation too. The flavoring can be changed too—there can be a strong tomato base or just a small amount of paste, and the spices can be altered. I think a pinch of sweet spices such as fennel and/or cinnamon adds a really nice note, and of course hot spices may be added or the aromatic vegetables increased, changed, or prepared differently (such as roasting or caramelizing to deepen flavor or switching to sweet onions).  The flavor may be changed according a particular theme as well, such as using taco spices for a Mexican Lasagna, adding chocolate for a mole effect, or using you favorite Chili spice mix for a Chili Lasagna.
      • The ricotta style filling can be made with all kinds of things from pureed silken tofu or mashed firm tofu to beans to cauliflower, cashews, commercial or homemade non dairy cream cheese or sour cream products or any combination thereof. It can be made with varying degrees of tanginess and richness and different amounts and types of fresh or dried herbs.  It can be very vegetable heavy, or mostly creamy. Nutritional yeast may be added to increase cheesy flavor. Seitan can be added to approximate some of those chicken-based white lasagnas.
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  1. Add-ins—There are a lot of things that can be added to lasagna, either as the featured ingredient or just sprinkled on top.  Here is a rundown:
    • Spinach and other greens—a classic, and one that tends to enhance the flavor of the ricotta flavoring. Fresh or frozen is fine.
    • Artichoke hearts, canned or marinated—this is one of my favorites. It adds great flavor and texture.
    • Olives—good in the tomato sauce or ragu fillings
    • Capers—can be mixed in or tossed on top
    • Roasted Garlic—good in white sauce or ricotta filling. Raw is good too.
    • Caramelized onions—or roasted or just plain sweet onion are good too.  Also anything in the same family such as shallots or chives.
    • Eggplant—This is good cubed into the ragu or tomato sauce, or sliced thinly in between layers.
    • Zucchini—best sliced thinly or shredded
    • Bell peppers—generally best in the ragu or tomato sauces.  Roasted can be tossed in as well or pureed into sauces or fillings.
    • Mushrooms—work anywhere. Can be sautéed first if desired.
    • Asparagus—either tips or chopped up
    • Potatoes—cubed, mashed, or even scalloped
    • Broccoli, Cauliflower, Squash, Carrots and other veggies—can be chopped, shredded, or sliced thinly and may be fresh or frozen
    • Salad Dressing—can be used to add flavor to the ricotta filling
    • Salsa—can be added to make sauces chunkier or improve flavor.  Excellent in Southwest-style lasagnas
    • Various marinated or pickled vegetables—adds tanginess
    • Non-dairy Cheese—I tend to just use this on top of the lasagna in a thin layer, if at all.  I find it just gets lost in the lower layers and since it’s expensive and high in fat I prefer to put it where it makes to most impact. Briefly broiling at the end of cooking time until slightly browned brings out its best flavor and texture.

4.   Change the method
A while back I tried an easier version of my basic recipe out of a combination of laziness, hunger and lack of ingredients.  I used frozen spinach instead of fresh, coarsely mashed the tofu instead of pureeing it, put the noodles straight in raw instead of boiling them first, and just sprinkled nutritional yeast on top instead of making a parmesan substitute or using soy cheese, and then just covered it with foil and slung it in the oven.
I ended up liking it better than the original!  And I definitely have been able to make it quite a bit more often. It’s great for unexpected guests because you can just throw it together and then go gab while it bakes.
My point is that sometimes small changes can make a big difference, and harder doesn’t always mean better.

I find that if the sauces and fillings are very moist and juicy, using dry, uncooked noodles (just regular ones—special no-boil noodles are not necessary) is a good way to firm up the final product and help it hold together better.  Make sure the sauce covers all the noodles and cover the pan with foil to keep the top noodle layer from drying out. This is also good way to save time and it’s less frustrating too.  Dry noodles tend to be easier to stack without flopping around or sticking together. If your sauce and filling are thick and dry, though, you’re better off precooking the noodles or they’ll get crunchy.

Other methods you can change are: whether you sauté you veggies first or just toss them in (a matter of preference and convenience), whether fillings and sauce are pureed smooth, left chunky, or somewhere in between, the order in which they’re layered, (can affect structural integrity, texture and flavor) how many layers there are, and the ratio of noodle to filling and sauce.

These are all things you can change for convenience, to try and improve a flaw, or just to see what happens.


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 Sometimes it’s fun to try a familiar recipe in a whole new way.  I haven’t tried every single idea on this page (although when I went to count how many I had tried I was sort of shocked at how much lasagna I’d had over the years) but I do suspect I’ll end up trying most of them eventually. 

After all, anything worth doing is worth doing 97 different ways, right? ;-)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vegan Cookbook Review: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

Okay, I know, this is a very well known cookbook in vegan circles, but I thought I’d add my two cents anyway.  I’ve made quite a few recipes from this book, some of them different from the ones typically reviewed, so I decided to share my thoughts on individual recipes as well as my general impressions of the book.  I am an unrepentant fiddler when it comes to recipes, so I will also share the various modifications I have made.

Here is a list of the recipes I have tried and my impressions of their pros and cons:

Crimson Velveteen Cupcakes:  I had these unfrosted. These had a nice mellow, pleasant flavor that worked perfectly well with carob in place of chocolate.  The color was a bit too strong in my opinion—it looked a little unappetizing and could be tasted slightly too.  That is a general characteristic of all red velvet cakes, though, not something specific to this recipe. Over all, I would make it again, possibly reducing the coloring. 

Peanut Butter Cupcakes: I glazed these with berry jelly instead of ganache for PB&J cupcakes.  They tasted pretty good that way.  The peanut flavor was not bad, but I’ve tasted stronger.  They were a good mellow choice for a kid’s party.

Maple Cupcakes with Sugared Walnuts:  I’ve eaten these, but not made them myself.  The cupcake itself and the walnuts are excellent, one of my favorites.  They are better with the Cinnamon Icing recommended for the Pumpkin Cupcakes than with the maple frosting recommended in the book.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes:  These have an excellent deep chocolate flavor (even with carob!) due to a slightly higher than typical cocoa to flour ratio, and a pleasant hint of spice and heat. The texture is a little off though—almond meal and corn flour added to make it “pleasantly gritty” reduce the structural integrity quite a bit.  If these are replaced with more flour you get a cupcake that tastes just as good but holds up much better.

Coconut Lime Cupcakes:  I admit it; I have never made this one exactly as written.  Before I even tried it I decided to reduce its saturated fat content with deliberate substitutions, and made one accidental substitution through the chaos of making several different types of cupcakes at once.  It tasted good nonetheless.  I ended up making it for an important event and refined the recipe even further during practice runs, to the point where fully half the ingredients had been changed in one way or another.  The fact that the texture remained constant—and consistently good—throughout shows it to be a very robust recipe.

Apple Cider Cupcakes:  Very nice apple-spice flavor, with a slightly shiny top that looks pretty without frosting.  I must say, though, the boiling and reducing and cooling steps make this recipe a bit of a pain to make.  It seems like there should be an easier way to do it—like replacing part of the juice with concentrate or something.  The agar would still have to be activated, though, so who knows.  There is something very soothing and winter-y about these, so I’ll probably end up making them again sometime anyway.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip (carob chip for me) Cupcakes:  Another one that I have tasted but not made.  It was pretty good, the combination unusual but surprisingly harmonious. Nice and moist, too.

Margarita Cupcakes: I made these without tequila and had them unfrosted.  They had a nice bright citrus flavor, although I made them at the same time as the coconut lime cupcakes and the general consensus was that those were better.

Frostings and Glazes
The basic buttercream works well enough as a base.  I went through a phase last year of doing a lot of experimenting with comparing and refining a lot of white/vanilla frosting recipes, including this one, with a goal of finding the best for a big project.  I ended up with a final product fairly similar in texture to this one but with quite a few extra flavoring elements to round out the slightly bland sweetness common to many frostings.

The ganaches work well with carob chips, and so does the chocolate mousse filling.

My favorite frosting in the book is the cinnamon icing. It has 1/8 of the fat and 1/7 of the sugar of the buttercream, but manages to exceed it in flavor.  That’s one of the challenges I found when I was being the Frankenstein of Frosting.  The pounds of sugar in typical frostings are not only expensive and caloric, but can have a diluting effect on any added flavors.

Why I tried these recipes, and not some of the others that are better known from this book:
Well, first of all, I have some personal dietary restrictions, including caffeine.  So cupcakes strongly emphasizing coffee or tea are more or less out.

Also some recipes called for ingredients that I find difficult to find or annoying to work with, chief among these being soy yogurt and soy milk powder.  I don’t care for soy yogurt in baked goods because baking is a science that requires a degree of consistency. Non-dairy yogurts vary considerably in sugar content, acidity and viscosity from brand to brand and flavor to flavor and that means your results will vary too.  Its availability also remains limited in a lot of areas (I’d have to drive a few towns over for it).  Soy milk powder is also inconsistent, particularly its sugar content, and most importantly, how readily it dissolves.  By which I mean that many powders do not in fact dissolve adequately and remain gritty and clumpy no matter what you do, and give pretty unappetizing results.  Sometimes there’s a bit of an off taste too. Other bakers may have access to better versions of these ingredients and not have any problems, though, so make your own decisions and don’t let me put you off automatically.

Other recipes I decided against trying simply because I already had a good recipe and didn’t need a new one.  I have an amazingly reliable and easy vanilla cake recipe that I got off the net years ago that hasn’t failed me yet, so I didn’t try the book’s version, which looked both more difficult and less healthy.  I didn’t try the low fat version either, because it has the dreaded soy yogurt and also it only manages to save about 2 TBSP of oil total.

Formatting Notes:
There are quite a few pictures in this book, all of them well lit and clear.  They make quite an impression.  So much so that I was rather surprised when I counted up and found less than half of the recipes were actually illustrated.  Apparently a number of the pictures are artistic shots of sprinkles, muffin liners etc.  That’s still quite a lot of pictures compared to cookbooks with only a few pages of them in the middle of the book. I would like to see more intermediate steps illustrated though, particularly on the more complex assembly methods.

The font is a bit small.  I’m not overly bothered by it because I’m nearsighted anyway but I know people who’ve complained about it.  I’d estimate it goes as low as 7 pt at times, and half that, of course, whenever there’s fraction notation (as in ½ tsp).

The tone is friendly and funny without being ribald enough to put people off, and lively enough to get you through the longer information sections.


Overall
Although this review may seem full of quibbles and criticisms*, I do actually like this book and use it regularly. There are some very good recipes in it, as well as a lot of good ideas about decorating, embellishing, and modifying the cupcakes to create a wide variety of options.
It’s also an excellent jumping off point for learning how to use a solid recipe base to develop your own ideas into creative variations.



*That’s just my personality ;)



Friday, April 8, 2011

12 Vegan Products I Wish Existed


Here is a list of things I occasionally pine for as a vegan, some with more hope than others.  It was going to be a list of ten but I overshot :-).

  1. Low fat or nonfat non-dairy cream cheese
Why?  One of the most frustrating things about vegan shopping is the fact that you’re often limited to one dietary modification.  Case in point—one can often find low fat crackers or chips, and one can sometimes find low sodium versions too.  But you very seldom find a version of the same product that is reduced in both fat and sodium simultaneously.  And it is the same with vegan food:  you can find special non-dairy versions of a product, but not so often with other dietary considerations available as well. And since there are medical issues requiring restrictions such as low or nonfat, low sodium, and sugar free foods, some vegans are placed in a difficult position when it comes to their food choices.

And while some foods can be made at home effectively, and thus modified as needed, I have had limited success achieving a satisfactory cream cheese texture at home.  I suspect industrial equipment and materials may have more success, but perhaps not.

  1. Cool Whip
I don’t mean a substitute for real full-fat whipped cream.  I never really ate it anyway.  What I miss is the totally artificial, mostly air, water and chemicals, stay-fluffy-til-the-end-of-time cloud of sweetness, both for its own sake and for its use in a variety of recipes, from frostings to puddings, pies, cheesecakes, etc.  Since it was so low in sugar (low in everything, really—all air and water :-)) it was great for diabetic-friendly desserts.  And it was low enough in fat that things made with it never left that heavy feeling in your stomach that really rich food can—and the way coconut milk substitutes usually do, in my experience.

  1. High Protein Vegan Cheese
I’m not quite sure why vegan cheeses are so low in protein, but the ultimate result is that when it replaces dairy cheese in recipes, it makes for much less of a well-rounded meal. This leaves me having to add extra ingredients to make up for it, which can be inconvenient, and it leaves the vegan cheese’s role as essentially a condiment, rather than a main ingredient that can stand on its own.

  1. Cracker Cheese—firm textured and sharply flavored
Finally, a food that makes the list based on something other than nutrition!  This one is all about taste and texture.
While I can respect the improvements that have been made in the meltability of faux cheeses, and I do appreciate their properties for some things, I really would like a cheese whose texture has been perfected as a nice firm solid, without worrying about melting.  One that would be great sliced on crackers and sandwiches.  I also would like a cheese with a nice sharp tang to it, and perhaps some smoky or herb flavors too.

  1. Lemon Based Vegan Mayonnaise
My reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, I personally find lemon juice to be more digestible than vinegar, although I realize this may not be a common issue.  Secondly, I find citrus tanginess to be brighter and more appealing than the fairly bland and harsh flavor of white vinegar, especially when zest is used.  In fact, when I’ve added lemon juice and zest (and a little olive oil) to a standard vegan mayonnaise, the flavor has immediately and significantly improved.

  1. Reduced Sugar Non-Dairy Ice Cream
Second verse, same as the first, right?  Another case where I would like more diet-friendly and diabetes-friendly options.
I will concede that the vegan versions sometimes are lower in fat, sugar and calories than standard versions, but not always low enough to meet medical needs as well as diet-friendly non-vegan foods.

  1. Non-Chocolate Desserts
I actually cannot eat chocolate, and thus i am acutely aware of just how much of the vegan dessert market it takes up.  Brands with more than a dozen ice cream flavors may have less than three without chocolate, and not uncommonly nothing but plain vanilla.  When I’ve gone to vegan expos, there will one piece of non- chocolate candy for every six booths filled with nothing but chocolate.

This is not only inconvenient for me, but it limits everyone else’s variety as well.

I have actually been lucky enough to come across three different carob-based ice cream flavors in the past, although their availability is very limited.

These days I actually stick mostly to sorbet, because it’s easier to get a hold of and of course is mainly fruit-based, not chocolate.

  1. Vegan Graham Crackers
I’m sad to say that this was once easily available on grocery shelves but has become increasingly scarce, at least in my area.  Brands that used to be vegan are now filled with honey (something many vegans avoid, and which in my opinion adds nothing to the crackers in question), and my vegan s’mores go unmade :-(.

  1. More Creative Meat Substitutes
The thing about fake meats is that you’re starting from scratch—the sky really is the limit in terms of both nutrition and flavor. These products can be fortified with anything from higher amounts of protein and fiber to vitamins and minerals and even omega-3s.  And they can be as low in fat and sodium as you want because the only sources are added, not inherent.

So why are so many commercial version sky-high in sodium, higher in fat than they need to be, and mostly unfortified?  It’s a wasted opportunity if you ask me.

On another note, I would also prefer it if such substitutes didn’t try so hard to mimic meat exactly in texture and flavor. I’ve tasted some products that went too far along those lines for my personal taste—they copied some of meat’s less appealing characteristics as well as the positive ones (Does anyone actually want to eat fake gristle?).
I sort of think it’s like the culinary equivalent of Uncanny Valley , where getting too close is creepier than something that is noticeably different but appealing in its own way.

I’d like to see some ultra-thin deli sliced versions as well, sort of like Arby’s. I think that style would be slightly more forgiving in terms of flavor and texture issues than thicker cuts.

I’d also like it if there were some really interesting flavors that are either uncommon or impossible from a traditional meat product. For example herbs or vegetables could be blended right into a cold cut or other solid “meat” product. Green eggs and ham, anyone?

  1. Baking Chips in Various Flavors
The kinds I miss the most are cinnamon chips, vanilla chips and peanut butter chips. They’d be handy not just for jazzing up cookies and cakes for also for use as coating in dipped or filled candies (yum!).
On the other hand, if these were available I’d probably eat too many of them, and I’ve never seen any, vegan or otherwise, that didn’t have a significant amount of either saturated or trans fat.

  1. High-protein, Low Sugar Yogurt
Most vegan yogurts are nearly all carbohydrate, and thus do not make very balanced snacks or meals when combined with fruit or granola as is traditional.  More protein and less sugar would improve this, and also make the yogurt more versatile for use in different, particularly savory, recipes. There may be limits in terms of how low in sugar you can go with active cultures, however.

  1. Pre-pureed silken tofu
Call me lazy, perhaps, but I think this would be extremely convenient.  You could just stir it into soups or cream sauces, and casseroles and other baked dishes would be easier too, to say nothing of desserts.



Monday, March 21, 2011

Vegan Pecan Pie: first attempt

I thought the result was decent with some room for improvement.  It was just a touch too firm—the next time I make it I will reduce the flour to 1/3 or even ¼ cup.  I will also add 1 or 2 tablespoons of carob powder to round out the flavor . I have found that a small amount of carob acts for sweet dishes the way bay leaves do for soups—it adds a certain depth that’s not really a noticeable flavor in itself, but missed if absent.  It works particularly well with nutty or spiced flavors.  It’s one of my secrets, and I was going to add it this time but I didn’t have it handy at the time.

I liked the fact that filling was a lot less rich than typical pecan pies and really let the flavor of the nuts shine through without overpowering them with sweetness. However, people who like the original super-rich version may not be satisfied with this one.

Overall, I was fairly pleased, and received good reviews (and requests for seconds) from my guinea pigs family.

Here is the recipe as I made it this time, with possible modifications noted:

Ridiculously Wholesome Pecan Pie

1 single pie crust (I used a pre-made crumb crust)
1 12 oz package firm silken tofu, pureed until smooth
½ cup applesauce
½ cup flour (can be reduced to 1/3 or ¼ cup for softer texture—recommended)
1 ½ cup sugar or sweetener
1-2 tbsp carob powder, optional  (I didn’t use, will definitely add next time)
1 ½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
½ tsp maple extract or mapleine
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom
1 tsp instant coffee powder or coffee substitute (I used Roma brand substitute), optional
1 heaping cup chopped pecans or walnuts
¾ cup old-fashioned oats
2-3 Tbsp chopped crystallized or candied ginger

A generous handful of pecan or walnut halves
1-2 Tbsp maple syrup (or agave, or sugar free pancake syrup)
A dash or two of cinnamon

A dash of turbinado sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Mix together flour, sugar or sweetener, optional carob powder if desired, and spices. Add pureed tofu, applesauce, extracts, and coffee powder if desired. Stir in chopped pecans, ginger and oats and pour into pie crust.

Pour syrup over nut halves and stir to coat. Sprinkle with dash of cinnamon and stir, trying to distribute evenly. Arrange nut halves on top of the pie in a pretty pattern, and press them into the filling enough to be firmly embedded but still visible. Sprinkle top of pie with turbinado sugar if desired.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, watching for any burning. Let cool & enjoy.

Here is what it looked like before baking:
 
 And this is what it looked like after:
A little crispy


Note:  I made this low sugar, using a dry sugar substitute (splenda or stevia or others work fine as long as the package says it’s bakeable).  If you use real sugar, you’ll definitely want to reduce the flour like I said in the beginning note because the excessive firmness will be even more pronounced.

To make the recipe completely sugar-free: use dry sugar substitute in place of the sugar, use sugar-free pancake syrup in place of the maple to coat the nut halves, use unsweetened applesauce, and omit the turbinado garnish at the end. You can also omit the crystallized ginger if that’s too much sugar for you, or try ½ tsp ground ginger instead.

Here are some potential variations that you can try (full disclosure: these are untested):

Variation 1:  for a richer, gooier version you could try replacing the applesauce with equal parts syrup (any kind, from the traditional corn syrup, to brown rice, maple or agave) and margarine (melted), about ¼ cup of each.  You can also replace the oats with more nuts.

Variation 2: Add a handful each shredded coconut and chocolate or carob chips when adding nuts and oats. You could also try adding dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries, or even vegan marshmallows.

Variation 3: Use any other kind of nut, and have macadamia, hazelnut, or almond pie. 

Variation 4:  You can replace more of the chopped nuts with oats for a lower fat pie.