January 27, 2014

Happy Birthday little man, I'm baking you a cake

I always feel a little nervous making cakes — there are so many opportunities for disaster. Even if it rises and looks fine, you still don't know what's inside. It's not like making soup, which you can see and taste as you go along.

This often leads me to make the same cake over and over, but when I agreed to make my little grandson's first birthday cake, I had an urge to try something new — something that looked more like a traditional birthday cake, while still being gluten-free. I turned to Chloe's Vegan Desserts (reviewed here) for inspiration, and found a recipe for olive oil lemon cake. It was supposed to be a bundt cake but I used an eight inch round pan. I also used half olive oil and have avocado oil because I was worried my olive oil was too strong-tasting. And, I used orange zest instead of lemon because my oranges were organic and my lemons were not.

Oh yes, and I used flax eggs instead of xanthan gum, and reduced the liquid in the recipe by a few tablespoons to compensate. The cake rose nicely in the pan, but took a lot longer to bake than the directions said, possibly because of the pan shape. Or maybe I still had too much liquid. I used a parchment round in the pan bottom and greased the pan well. After the cake was cool, it released from the pan without a hitch. So far so good.

I frosted the cake with the bittersweet chocolate frosting I wrote about here, because it's delicious and wonderful. (I used cocoa powder, not carob.) And I decorated it with Surf Sweets peach rings and watermelon rings. I admit that as a cake decorator I will never achieve greatness (hahaha), but the cake looked good to the one-year-old's almost six-year-old sister, so, mission accomplished.

Papa lights the candles (one for good luck) while the kiddies look on.

And was the cake good, you might be wondering? I think that if the recipe had been followed exactly, and the cake made with wheat flour instead of Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Flour Mix, and made as a bundt cake, it would have been perfect. Or if I'd just followed the directions and used xanthan gum, the texture might have been more like the photo in Chloe's book.

That said, I loved the cake. The texture* reminded me of the firmer, eggy texture of a pound cake. I found both the taste and texture extremely pleasing, and I'd love to try the recipe again in a bundt pan, just to compare. I would describe the texture as fine-grained, though it looks a lot denser in the photo than it actually was (see note, below). I really liked the combination of lemon juice and orange zest. So far, Chloe's Vegan Desserts has been a great source of delicious and successful recipes.

As for the surf sweets, which are vegan, non-GMO and contain natural and mostly organic ingredients — they taste a little too bubble-gummy to me. I passed the decoration on my slice to an eager recipient, who was more than happy to acquire an extra candy.

How do you decorate cakes? Do your cakes look beautiful and professional ... or more like mine?

* note: The cake slice was refrigerated, and photographed the next day during 'daylight,' or what passes for daylight in the PNW. The texture of the cake solidified somewhat in the refrigerator and looked a bit more dense then it did the day before. It still tasted great, but it looked a little firmer than it had been.

January 22, 2014

Fabulous recipes from Fire and Earth Kitchen: roasted carrot curry noodle soup

I often come across appealing recipes that I want to make. Sometimes I bookmark them, but rarely do I ever get around to actually cooking them. Recently I discovered a Web site that was so compelling we made several of the recipes in quick succession — and loved them all. I found the site while reading Vegan Score, a blog that spotlights people and events of special interest to Seattle-area vegans. In this case, the recipes on Fire and Earth Kitchen would be a super find for anyone — but especially for vegans who love delicious food. And it's all gluten-free for those of you who must avoid gluten. But gluten-eaters won't miss a thing. Trust me.

Renee, from Fire and Earth Kitchen, is a chef, food coach and cooking class instructor in and around Seattle and Whidbey Island. And she shares recipes on her Web page. I've made four dishes so far and plan to try more of them. The first thing my husband made was roasted carrot curry noodle soup, and the taste was exceptional — fragrant and rich. He didn't use the optional noodles, and he reduced the salt to about 1/2 teaspoon, but otherwise followed the recipe to create the perfect warming soup for a winter eve.

Next he made homestyle "meaty" tomato sauce with lentils and walnuts. It was so good I couldn't believe my husband had actually made it himself. I used some of the leftovers instead of straight-up lentils to make the beet burgers I recently posted about, and I'm sure it elevated the burgers into something really special.

I made broccoli and onion pakora, which are small, oven-baked chickpea flour pancakes that were wonderful. And so easy to throw together. I couldn't stop eating them.

I'm on the Fire and Earth Kitchen email list and the last recipe I received was for waffles. I've gotten pretty good at waffle-making, and the recipe was very similar to what I've been doing, but I gave it a shot — you know, measuring and all. My waffles were excellent — tender and light — and I'll probably stick to measuring next time I whip up a batch. Maybe.

I've saved the most exciting part for last. Renee is going to teach a cooking class in my kitchen! I had a list of menus to choose from, and I hope I get my first choice, but I won't reveal it until I know for sure. The class will be Sunday, April 27, if you're in the neighborhood. More information will be available on Fire and Earth's Web page. I can't wait.

Renee is very generous with her recipes and has given me permission to share a recipe here. (Of course you can find all the ones I mentioned and more, on her Web site.) I'll give you the original that my husband made, and then tell you how I changed it to accommodate my lazy self when I made it. Mine was delicious, though my husband's was even better.

Roasted carrot curry noodle soup
Vegan & Gluten-free
Serves 6-8
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 30 min
  • 5 cups carrots, peeled
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 " ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp salt*
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth (about 2 cartons)
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp coconut aminos (soy sauce substitute), or tamari
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (or any vinegar)
  • 2 cups of bean thread or rice noodles, cooked (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil baking sheet or use parchment paper, and spread carrots, onion, ginger, and unpeeled garlic cloves onto it. Sprinkle with salt, cumin, and cayenne. Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes until carrots and onions are starting to brown.

2. In a large pot combine vegetable broth and coconut milk over medium-low heat. When veggies are soft, squeeze garlic from it's papers and add all veggies to pot along with lemon juice, coconut/aminos or tamari, and vinegar. Blend well with an immersion blender or regular blender. Add noodles if using and serve.

*We thought a tablespoon of salt sounded like too much salt for us, so we reduced it to about 1/2 teaspoon.

Although the recipe is extremely easy to prepare as written, I made a lazier version of the soup by cooking the ginger and cut-up carrots in my pressure cooker for a few minutes, and blending everything with 1/2 cup of cashews, dehydrated onion and garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in my Vitamix. I didn't use the coconut milk.It was creamy and wonderfully delicious.

Go have a look at Renee's recipes. You'll probably want to try a few.

January 17, 2014

Isa Does It — review

It's ridiculous how long it's taken me to write a review of Isa Does it. I thought I'd get it done before the holidays to encourage people to give it as a gift, but although I, myself, bought multiple copies to give as gifts, I never wrote a word about the book. There are lots of reasons I could mention, but rather than casting blame on my own sloth or other issues, I choose to blame the weather. Yes, there has been so little natural light here that all the photos I take suck, and I don't want to post them. Sometimes it feels like I'm living underground.

Muffin pan mini omelets.

But, excuses and issues aside, you know, there's always another gift-giving occasion around the corner — a birthday, Valentine's Day, first day of spring — so if you haven't yet found the perfect present for your best vegan friend, I might be able to help you. Or you might just want to purchase a copy for yourself. Read on.

Before I say anything about the recipes, I have to say a few words about the physical book. It's one of the prettiest cookbooks I've seen in ages — and not just because it has beautiful photos of so many of the recipes. It's true that the photos are wonderful, but the design of the whole book is just so appealing — I love the substantial, matte, pastel colored paper, the quirky but logical page layouts and the sumptuous full-page photos. It's the sort of book that you'll want to page through sitting in front of the fire as much as you'll want to cook from it. Even as I sit here writing the review, I keep looking through the book admiring the pages, and picking things I might want to make for dinner. The book's appeal expands even further when you add Isa's humorous, chatty, down-to-earth writing — there's lots of helpful 'how-to' and ingredient stuff at the beginning, an engaging introduction to each recipe, plus many helpful hints along the way.

Sweet potato and red curry soup with rice and purple kale — a favorite.

For those of you trying to avoid various foods in your diet, there's a list of substitutions for things like gluten, soy and nuts. The book isn't specifically geared to allergies, but really, there are so many recipe choices you shouldn't have much of a problem finding plenty of options. One exception might be for those relatively new to avoiding gluten in baked goods. You may need to do a little research to find some of the dessert recipes useful.

Okra gumbo with chickpeas and kidney beans.

We've tried quite a few recipes so far, sometimes following the directions and sometimes sort of following them.

Shroomy hot and sour soup.
For example, my husband made hot and sour soup subbing carrots and cauliflower for the cabbage, and adding mung threads instead of chow mein noodles. Recipes, after all, are guides, and Isa's recipes hold up well to a few ingredient changes.

Smokey Incan stew.

Mostly, we've really enjoyed the recipes we've tried, though we don't always agree — for example, I loved the mini omelets, my husband not so much.

Goddess noodles.
Two things worth noting — the servings tend to be very generous, and although we are hearty eaters, we often end up with tons of leftovers. And sometimes the ingredients are more (for lack of a better word) extravagant than I like. For example, the Goddess Noodles, which serves four, calls for 1/2 cup of tahini. My husband, who can be a rather strict recipe follower when making something for the first time, used the full amount, and I could barely eat it. I make tahini sauce often, and love it, but never quite that much per serving. This is not meant as a negative, just as an observation.

Lentil-miso gravy (over mashed potatoes, of course!).

I highly recommend Isa Does It as a worthy addition to your cookbook collection, or as a beautiful gift for anyone with an interest in cooking delicious vegan food. The recipes are clear, easy to follow, and depend on readily available ingredients. Honestly, I can't keep my hands off the book — it's gorgeous and inspiring, and I want to make everything!

Full disclosure: I was sent a free, review copy by the publisher. I did not receive payment for the review. All opinions are my own.

January 14, 2014

Good news, bad news, good news

Good news from Costco.

I have kind of an unwritten rule at Costco — if they have organic fruits or veggies for sale, I usually buy them because I want Costco to know organic choices are supported by their members. That would explain how I ended up with a giant bag of organic sweet potatoes that we ate until I couldn't stand the sight of sweet potatoes for a while. And a 35.2 oz. (1 kg) box of organic cooked beets. Seriously, beets? (More about this later.)

But, I'd be lying if I said it was only fruits and veggies that got my attention. When I spied the box of Hail Merry miracle tarts in one of the coolers (as I searched for the tofu), I had to buy it. I love Hail Merry treats, and the tiny tarts were too big a temptation to pass up, especially since I was attending a family dinner that night and could take them along as my dessert contribution. Were they good? Hail, yes! They were rich, creamy and satisfying. Although to me they tasted perfectly sweet, another guest thought they were not sweet, so I guess their degree of sweetness would depend on your own personal sweet tooth. My only regret with the purchase was the excess of packaging. Normally I would make my own truffles from raw ingredients and bring them on a plate. Packaging is such a conundrum when it comes to stuff like this.

As for the beets, in my last post I wrote about buying pre-cooked beets at Trader Joe's, and about my concerns about packaging. When I saw a huge box of beets at Costco, I felt the same packaging worry, but my husband, who loves beets but doesn't like cooking them, couldn't resist. Of course, he had to go out of town and hasn't eaten any of the Costco beets, but I soon put them to good use by whipping up a large batch of beet burgers à la Post Punk Kitchen for a family dinner on Saturday night. I more or less followed the recipe, but instead of the lentils I used a leftover spicy lentil-walnut dish I happened to have, instead of the fresh onion and garlic I used dehydrated, instead of the fennel (gaaa!) I used five-spice powder which I now can tolerate more or less, and instead of the breadcrumbs I used crushed rice cakes. And I refrigerated the burger mixture overnight. Just a few small changes. The mix is eerily ground beef-like, and looking at it is disconcerting.

Looks like beef.

The burgers, while they don't taste like beef, are delicious. I served them with a starter of curried carrot soup, sides of smoky potato wedges from The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions (review), and a mixed green salad with tahini-umeboshi dressing. (The dressing contained only umeboshi paste, tahini and water, though the recipe I linked to has more ingredients.) I didn't take any photos of the dinner, so the photo is of a previous batch of the exact same burgers I made from the Trader Joe's beets, that we ate with squash and broccoli.

Speaking of beet burgers and such, I just remembered that I have a beet loaf recipe on the blog that would probably make good burgers. Or maybe I'll follow my own recipe and make a beet loaf — still have plenty of beets!

So why did my husband go out of town? (bad news)
It's been pretty stressful around here lately. Many of you know that when we moved from the Midwest to the West Coast four years ago, we held onto our house and rented it out, usually to reliable renters. We weren't quite sure if we would really stay here or go back to Wisconsin. And we loved our house. We've had to do many tenant-related repairs to the house, and that's as expected, but I wasn't expecting the call I got last Monday, informing me that the current tenants had just returned from vacation to find the heat off and the house at 35˚ with all the radiators and house pipes frozen. They left the house empty and unattended in brutal Midwest weather, including during the polar vortex when wind chills reached -60˚ F.  I spent frantic hours on the phone getting the heating company and the plumber out to the house, etc. The insurance company has been working with us as has a contractor who will oversee repairs. My husband left on Friday to see the house, meet with all the repair people and insurance agent and try to coordinate the restoration. The house is devastated — all the radiators but one need replacement, holes were made in walls and ceilings to replace damaged pipes, and walls and ceilings will need to be opened for mold prevention. Our beautiful house is in shreds, and the repair costs are now exceeding $100,000. Most of the costs will be covered by insurance, but many will not. Ironically, we had decided to sell the house this spring, and a realtor was one of the people my husband met with. Oh well.

How about some good news?

I just received a tweet from Kim of Welcoming Kitchen telling me she saw my humble blog on a list of 10 best vegan lifestyle blogs. Thank you Becky, for including me. :) I feel honored to be included with such wonderful blogs. Take some time to look at the other blogs on the list — you may find a new favorite.