Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vegan Pumpkin Peanut Butter Mini-Cheesecakes

Pumpkin and Peanut Butter may sound like an odd combination but it's actually quite compatible--somewhat reminiscent of the more popular peanut butter and banana pairing, just a little subtler.

I liked these cheesecakes. They're fun, nontraditional, and not very difficult. Including the optional lemon juice gives you a more authentic cheesecake tang, but I like them better without (That tang was actually part of the reason I never liked real cheesecake). Use as much or as little as you like.

These mini cheesecakes were an opportunity to try out my new silicon cupcake liners. They worked very well.  Paper liners don't do all that well with crumbs crusts; they tend to get greasy (or stick).
The silicon liners released the cheesecakes easily, and their floppiness allowed me to peel down the sides while pushing up the bottom, almost like a spring-form pan. I was quite pleased with them.

Cross-section view ; )

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Mini-Cheesecakes

1 ¼ cups vegan ginger snaps (about 23 1½ inch cookies)
3 Tbsp oil
1 ½ Tbsp sugar or sweetener

½ cup peanut butter (the thick no-stir kind)
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 12 oz package silken tofu
¾ cup sugar or sweetener
1 ½ Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp dried orange or lemon zest
dash each cardamom and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
optional: up to 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice (only add if you prefer a distinctly tangy cheesecake; I leave it out)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Making the ginger snap crust
Pulse ginger snaps in food processor until they are fairly finely ground. Add oil and sugar/sweetener pulse until mixture looks like wet sand. Press crumbs into the bottom and up to ½ an inch up the sides of 12 silicon muffin liners. Bake for 8-9 minutes. Let cool five minutes.

Blending the filling

Place all filling ingredients into the food processor (no need to rinse it between crust and filling) and puree until completely smooth. Spoon filling into your cups and smooth the tops. Don’t worry about leaving room; these don’t rise.

Ready to bake

Bake for 20-22 minutes more. They should look firm and not at all wobbly. Let cool completely before you try to get peel them out of the cups

Then enjoy! This isn’t one of those cheesecake recipes where you have to chill forever before eating (although leftovers should definitely be stored in the fridge).

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a fun, stress-free holiday. Or failing that, just have some cheesecake!

Cheesecake: Therapy for Foodies

Friday, November 15, 2013

Savory Whole Wheat Herb Bread (and the really good stuffing you can make with it)

This post is part of the Virtual Vegan  Potluck, a blog ring in which vegan bloggers around the world post at the same time and link to each other. I participated this last May in the dessert category with this Cinnamon Snickerdoodle Sticky Bun Cake. My category is bread this time, and I have chosen to make a savory whole grain herb bread.

Whole Wheat Herb Bread

The classic approach to whole wheat bread is usually on the sweet side. In fact, in many cookbooks that have both a classic white bread recipe and a whole wheat recipe, the latter contains up to four or five times as much added sugar as the latter. Which somewhat counteracts the potential low-glycemic benefits of whole grains and can also be incompatible in recipes designed for less-sweet white bread.

But this is not the only possible option. A savory take on wheat bread can be quite refreshing and delicious. Such breads also work much better as ingredients in savory recipes such as stuffing or croutons. Here is my favorite “ingredient” bread—it’s flavorful, and has an absorbent but sturdy texture that toasts well and doesn’t get soggy with mixed with liquids.

It’s also a very easy and relatively quick recipe. Bread making can be both intimidating and time consuming. An average bread recipe typically takes at least three hours of rising, kneading and baking. And some extend the process over days. This one takes only an hour and a half total (quite short for a yeast bread) and requires no kneading or proofing. This makes baking a whole loaf of bread just to be hacked up and put into a recipe more feasible than with a more difficult bread recipe. The only problem is keeping people away from the bread long to make the stuffing. :)

Mmmm, fresh homemade bread....


Savory Whole Wheat Herb Bread

2 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
2 1/4 tsp rapid rise yeast
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 2/3 cups warm water (about 115 degrees F)

Herbs and Seasonings:
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/2 tsp dill weed


Mix together all dry ingredients, including herbs and seasonings, in a large mixing bowl. Warm your water, being careful not to let it get more than a few degrees above your target of 115 degrees. Warm water helps yeast work efficiently; excessively hot water can damage or even destroy yeast. This a a step that's worth being precise with--I use a candy thermometer to check my water temperature.

Note: If you don't have a candy thermometer or are opposed to using one for a basic bread recipe, you can try bringing 2/3 cup of water to a boil in a kettle or microwave and then mixing it with 1 cup of cool tap water. Then you should have 1 2/3 cups of water that is (roughly) 110 to 115 degrees. This is not quite as reliable as the thermometer but should be good enough.
The rising dough

Mix your warmed water into your dry ingredients, stirring and scraping the sides and bottom until there are no dry patches. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap that has been sprayed with cooking spray on the bottom. Place in a warm, draft-free place (I use a turned-off oven or microwave with the door closed) for 30 minutes. The dough should have doubled in size; give it another 5-10 minutes if it has not.

Before second rise

Stir the dough briefly to punch down and then scrape it into a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Using an oiled or sprayed spatula will make this process easier, as it will be a rather sticky dough.

After second rise and ready to bake

Cover the loaf pan with sprayed plastic wrap (you can use the same piece as before) and let rise again in your draft-free spot for another 20-30 minutes. The dough should rise up to the top of the loaf pan or a little over.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F five to ten minutes before the end of the second rising time.

Remove the plastic wrap from the loaf pan and bake the bread 25-30 minutes, until nicely browned.
in the oven
cooling on rack

Flip the loaf out of the pan to cool on a rack. Let cool about 45 minutes before slicing.

Savory Herb Bread, Sliced and ready to eat



Full-Flavored Whole Wheat Vegan Stuffing Recipe—Made with Homemade Herb Bread

So what can you do now that you have a nice savory loaf of wheat bread? Make stuffing!
Bread with herbs and seasonings baked right in makes an excellent stuffing or dressing. Using homemade herb bread is a very effective way to get great flavor deep into bread, rather than just mixing the herbs in at the end and hoping they soak in. This technique of using pre-flavored bread is actually used by major brands of store-bought dressing mixes, too.

 (Did you know, using the term dressing for stuffing comes from the Victorian era, when the word stuffing was considered “vulgar.” Probably because it put people in mind of where it was going to be shoved.)

Anyway, this dressing was the best I have made from scratch so far. There are a lot of different ways to vary it—add-ins that can be sautéed with the onions and celery, mix-ins that are stirred in right before baking. The leek version (which is pictured) was very good.

Whole Wheat Leek Stuffing


Savory Vegan Stuffing


¾ of a loaf of Savory Whole Wheat Herb Bread, above (one recipe minus 3-4 slices)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp garlic
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced celery

1 ½ cups thinly sliced leeks OR other sauté-able add-ins such as mushrooms, shallots, bell peppers, diced apples/pears, fennel, zucchini, squash or mock meats/sausage

½ tsp salt (more to taste)
2 ¾ cup low sodium vegetable broth

½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp lemon pepper
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp dill weed
½ tsp parsley
¼ tsp ground sage
1 tsp Italian seasoning

Optional Mix-ins to stir in at the end (choose 1 or 2, use up to ½ cup): dried cranberries, cherries, apricots or other dried fruit, nuts such as pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts, etc., olives, capers, artichoke hearts, fresh greens such as spinach or chopped fresh herbs (decrease dried to compensate)

Cut the bread into ¾ inch cubes. Spread the cubes out on two baking sheets and toast them in the oven for 50 minutes at 325 degrees F, stirring halfway through. Let cool.

Toasting the bread cubes

Sauteing the veggies

Meanwhile, sauté garlic, onion, celery, and leeks or other sauté-able add-ins in 1-2 Tbsp of the oil. Add the salt and cook until veggies are softened and somewhat browned. Add the rest of the seasonings and cook a minute more. Add the broth and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Cook for a minute or two, then pull off heat.

Stirring in the bread

Stir in the toasted bread cubes and cover the pot. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then stir and let it sit 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust salt and other seasonings. Stir in any last minute mix-ins such as nuts or dried fruit.

Transfer the stuffing to a baking dish and brush the top with 1 tablespoon more oil. Bake at 425 degrees F for 10-15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 15 minutes more. Watch carefully—the stuffing should be quite toasty and crunchy on top but not at all burnt. You may need to adjust the temp and time if your oven runs hot. Let cool ten to fifteen minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Fresh out of the oven

Be sure to check out the other blogs participating in the potluck:
To the previous blog in the VVP
To the next blog in the VVP

By the way, if you're looking for other Thanksgiving ideas to go with your stuffing, you can check out the Thanksgiving, holiday, pie, and pumpkin tags. You might get inspired to try something new this year!
I particularly recommend the Pumpkin Sweet Potato Pecan Streusel Pie and the Seitan Pot Pie with Mushrooms and Pearl Onions.