So, recently I had been part of a project at work informally known as the “Blackout Blitz”.  In all fairness, its name comes from its ties to production quotas and inter-departmental deadlines; however, from the very beginning, it made me think simultaneously of the Blitz of WWII and of the blackout drills held during the war.  Hardly unusual, given the name.

(This raises an important question: why do so many people glorify the WWII era?  I do it, too, but why?  I’m perfectly able to wear oxfords and listen to big band music today, but without all the hassles of rationing, polio, wartime casualties, the marginalization of women and minorities…  I can only chalk it up to there being a heckuva spin doctor there somewhere, who made the whole damned thing seem so glamourous and wholesome.  And, let’s face it, the Bomb Girls of the eponymous television series seemed to know how to make a blackout drill a real gas.)

Needless to say, by the time my mom’s birthday was approaching, I had blackouts and blitzes on the brain, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for her cake, I decided to duplicate Ebinger’s Bakery’s famous Brooklyn Blackout Cake.

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I turned to Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts for the basic how-to and for the killer chocolate pudding to slather between layers and all over the outside – and was I ever excited when the mixture smoothed and thickened exactly as it was supposed to! – but deferred to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for the cake portion.  Their Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipe is moist and foolproof, and with the addition of black cocoa powder to make it extra-dark and rich, there was no going wrong.

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I was concerned that the step of pulsing part of the cake in the food processor to make crumbs to be sprinkled on top would detract somehow from the finished product, but au contraire!  They only add to the chocolatey goodness.

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Moist chocolate cake sandwiching rich chocolate pudding?  Sign me up!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

For oh, years and years, I had ignored the random cherry-producing plant (logic would suggest it’s a tree, but it really doesn’t look tree-like) in the front yard.  It never really seemed to yield that much fruit, just a smattering that would be left for the birds.  Somehow, it decided to make up for lost time this year, and its branches became so loaded with cherries that it became impossible to weed-whack underneath as the sheer weight made the lower branches sag right to ground level.

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And that’s not all of them!  That front pail was full, and you can’t see the extra-large mop bucket likewise full on the bottom shelf of the fridge.  While they’re certainly edible, they’re tart as all get-out, which rather curbed the urge to try to snack on them unadorned (imagine trying to eat a cranberry straight up: not vile, but not something anybody ever does).

I had tossed around the idea of making Cherry Mountain Cake, a recipe given to me by one of the underwriters that makes for a spectacular and show-stopping dessert.  The logistical headache or storing the finished product, however, quickly struck that from my list.  Maybe I could preserve them somehow…

Full confession: I was a Jam Virgin.  I’ve always loved the idea of turning summer-fresh fruit into a lovely homemade spread to be enjoyed year-round, but it was an intimidating prospect.  Canners!  Water baths!  Making sure a tight seal is formed so you don’t inadvertently poison your lucky test subjects with botulism!  No, I needed something simple; maybe a freezer jam of sorts.  And so I happened upon this recipe.

What I Liked

  1. It was really, really simple.  If you have a pot and a spoon, you can make this.
  2. It’s a cheap recipe.  Granted, I got the cherries for free, and all I had to buy was the jelly powder in place of pectin.  Risk vs. reward ratio is excellent on this one.

What I Didn’t Like

  1. It’s so simple that it leaves out some really important information.  Cook for 15 minutes?  Okay, but at what heat?  Also, if your fruit is exceptionally juicy, do you have to adjust/eliminate the water, or increase the jelly powder?  Or do you drain the fruit?
  2. It’s sweeeeeet.  Crazy sweet.  I started out with tart fruit, and I find it sweet – I can’t imagine what a version made with a naturally sweeter base would taste like.

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Partway through the fifteen minutes of unspecific cooking.

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“Jarred”, and ready to eat-or-freeze.  Since the motto of simplistic jams the world over appears to be “use whatever containers you want, just leave me alone”, I opted for the sturdy yet versatile number seen above.  I had no idea if it was going to turn out, and I figured if it didn’t, I could at least wash these babies out and use them for something else; the last thing I wanted was to be stuck with a bunch of breakable Mason jars I’d never wind up using again.

It didn’t firm up quite the way I had hoped (and naturally, the recipe didn’t indicate what sort of consistency it should have or how long it should take to set).  But…it’s not completely liquid, either, which I consider a half-victory.

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It spreads nicely and pairs excellently with peanut butter.  Spills are best prevented by holding one’s bagel completely level.  And hey, it’s tasty!

Has anyone ever tried a recipe like this?

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I have just this to say: lousy Smarch weather!  Things were melting and thawing, darn it, and then whammo, enough snow on March 16 to make things look distinctly Christmassy.  Oh, I’ll admit, it was pretty, but getting snow in my shoes walking through the parking lot to work?  Not so much fun.

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That’s okay.  I keep telling myself it will melt.  It will melt.

What better way to stave off snow-induced shock than with a hearty vegetarian chili and hot biscuits?

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This is the Vegetarian Chickpea Chili from Sweet Potato Chronicles, and oh, my word.  Now, I haven’t eaten meat-based chili in forever, but in my totally out-of-touch opinion, the pearl barley gives it this lovely, meaty, chewy texture.  It definitely provides a fun twist on the standard cans-of-beans vegetarian chilis.  This recipe is super-hearty, and doubles wonderfully to feed a small army.

With miso in my fridge for the first time since I can remember, I had to make a batch of the Bettah Chettah Biscuits from The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes by Kris Holechek.

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Crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside…it doesn’t get much better than that!

(Kinda seems like a fair trade-off for the snow, no?)

The combination of a stat holiday and a nasty, blustery weather system made today a doubly great reason to stay in the house and stay warm.  And the chance to warm up the oven?  Ooh, can’t pass that up!

For Valentine’s Day, I got a new cookbook: Betty Goes Vegan by Annie and Dan Shannon.  This might seem a tad unromantic, but a) I had been coveting this book since I first heard about it, and b) it was from my parents, so really, something a little more, um, personal would just have been inappropriate.  And honestly, you can’t go wrong with a cookbook anyway.  The first recipe I saw that really jumped off the page at me was Monte Cristo pockets.  Why?  Not sure.  I was never a huge meat n’ cheese freak in my omnivorous days, but there was something about this recipe…

Get it? "Comte" = "Count". Ah-ha-ha!

Get it? “Comte” = “Count”. Ah-ha-ha!

OMG…I’m so glad I tried this!  I might cut back on either the time or temperature in the oven next time as my bottoms got a little overdone (on the bright side, I didn’t set off the smoke detector), but that’s such a minor little tweak.  And for reasons unclear to me, I had a ton of filling left over – probably enough for another full batch – so I’ll likely get my chance to try that out sooner than I thought.  Blackened bits aside, this pastry is, no joke, the flakiest, most amazing stuff ever!  I’m glad I ate lunch before starting in on these, or I wouldn’t have had a picture to post.

And now, alas, I only have four…four Monte Cristo pockets left…

(Ah-ha-ha!)

 

…you definitely need to loosen up a bit.

Okay, so my job has a lot going for it.  It has a comprehensive benefits package.  There is room for advancement for motivated employees.  It’s in a well-maintained building that is close to my bank, dentist, favourite restaurants, shopping, foxy former co-workers, etc.  They’re also remarkably understanding and accommodating at office functions re: my strictly voluntary dietary restrictions.  I am deeply grateful for that.

But…they don’t like people eating lunch at their desks.  The girl who trained me explained the philosophy thusly: “Nothing that requires a utensil!  If you’re fiddling with utensils, you’re not working.”  O…kay.  Yet Bake Club members are free to use forks to eat cake at their desks.  Bizarre.

So covert finger-food it was!  I’ve spent the past two years surreptitiously nibbling a PB&J at my desk.  Yes!  I became a walking vegan stereotype, and decided it was high time for a change.  (By now you might be wondering why I don’t just eat in the lunch room.  I tried that for a while, but prefer actually leaving the office to stretch my legs, run errands, etc.  Not unreasonable after a morning in front of the computer.)  I decided that tofu sandwiches were the way to go: whole grain and fibre from the bread, plus protein and calcium from the tofu, with only a fraction of the sugar of a PB&J.

A couple of weeks ago I made the Sweet Chili Lime Tofu from Vegan Yum Yum.  A little mustard, some lettuce, and it was delicious.  Last week, I was lazy and made Southern Fried Shake n’ Bake tofu.  I still had a package of the coating left and could have done it again this week, but I wanted something a little different.

I used the basic bread-and-bake method for the Cornmeal Crusted Chili Lime Tofu from Veganomicon, but made my own coating of panko crumbs and a Roasted Chili and Tamarind/Roasted Garlic and Peppers mix (both by Clubhouse seasonings).  It’s got just the right amount of kick, and a wonderfully crispy finish – and the only way it could be even easier to make is if it breaded and baked itself.  Seriously.

Behold, the healthy-eating rebel!

Some like it hot

June 24, 2012

I usually don’t bother making New Year’s resolutions anymore.  Oh, I understand the psychological appeal of a new, unsullied year to finally kick that bad habit or start a good one, but it’s just not my thing.  Most resolutions fail, due either to lofty goals, ill-defined goals, or zero execution plan.  For example, “I resolve to lose weight” is too vague.  “I resolve to lose 50 pounds” is ambitious – but not totally impossible, if it’s accompanied by a list of Hows, which it usually isn’t.  “I resolve to lose 20 pounds; to do so, I’ll cut out my daily can of soda and walk for half an hour four times a week” is manageable and well-laid out, but most people don’t demonstrate this foresight.

In my own case, “I resolve to become a gourmet vegan chef” is just…not…gonna…happen.  But I do have a bit of an addiction to printed matter, including numerous cookbooks.  I buy them, ooh and aah over the recipes, and then put them back on the bookshelf without actually doing anything vaguely domestic.  So, for the last couple years, I’ve had an “unspoken resolution” of sorts: I resolve will endeavour to cook at least one new dish per month.  The only catch?  It has to be “real food”, and not a cupcake or cookie recipe – something that can be eaten as a meal.  That’s only twelve instances of real cooking per year; who can’t handle that?  Some of my experiments have been…less than pleasing…but for the most part, this has been a really fun undertaking, and I’ve been motivated to try dishes I might not have otherwise.

I realized last week that I hadn’t yet tried a new recipe for June, but after flipping through a couple of books, it didn’t take me long to come up with a relatively cohesive meal plan.

Left to right: “Better Love Your Beans Bake” from Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites, and “Curried Cabbage and Peas” from Appetite for Reduction.  And before you ask, no, I’m not a professional food photographer.  😛  The cabbage dish looks way prettier in person, with curried-yellow cabbage, plus bright green peas and orange carrots dotting it.

Cross-section of the bean bake:

It looks all rich and creamy – it is! – and cheesy – it isn’t! – but the topping is reasonably healthy, with a cup of puréed chickpeas making up the bulk of it, plus some nondairy sour cream, almond milk, nutritional yeast, and spices.  I’m a little obsessed with chickpeas, so finding a new way to use them in a recipe was A-OK by me.

A note on Hearty Vegan Meals: that books is full of recipes that will satisfy omnivores.  Quite a few of them call for deep-frying, which doesn’t thrill me, but I haven’t hit a bad recipe yet out of the ones I’ve tried.

The curried cabbage is hot-hot-hot – I could have halved the curry powder and been happy – but the bean bake worked wonders to temper it.

The best part?  I get total points for cooking something that everyone can enjoy.