April 14, 2013

Butterscotch Cupcakes With Coconut-Bacon

Makes 12 cupcakes

Butterscotch Bacon Cupcakes

This combo is basically heaven to me. Butterscotch and bacon have a caramelly affinity for one another and I love the sweet salty combo. As for the bacon craze: I get it. Add some smokiness to the mix and you’ve got something really special. But I love pigs, they are cute and smart, and so my bacon comes in plant form.

Now, this recipe really elucidates vegan rule #14 “Vegans can and will make bacon out of everything.” Hide your eggplants, protect your carrots and build a safehouse for your coconut because the vegans are coming for their BLTs. And cupcakes.

But before you yell at me about how inaccessible this recipe is, let me state: you can make these into plain old (but deliciously amazing exceptionally wonderful) Vanilla Cupcakes With Vanilla Frosting. I, however, had just come into a windfall of Coconut Bacon and I was determined to use it. My boyfriend does this blog, The Laziest Vegans In The World, and he purchased a bunch of Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon. Honestly, I mostly ignore the stuff he eats (unless it’s chocolate, duh), but I was pretty intrigued because, well, see above. I love vegan bacon. And I especially loved the simple ingredients list and, yum, is this stuff ever smoky and good! Because it’s made from coconut, it just seemed right to put it in a sweet treat. You can order Coconut Bacon or make it yourself.

The second exciting part of this post is about the coconut-based frosting and cupcake. Not to get too heavy-handed in a post about cupcakes, but I also love orangutans. Just today I saw a heartbreaking article about what palm oil production is doing to orangutan habitats. Although there are claims of sustainability from some companies, there is too much conflicting information about it. And so, awhile ago I decided not to use palm oil in my recipes. Which, unfortunately, means I won’t be using any vegan butters (for now.) So this recipe uses an applesauce-coconut oil concoction that I find works perfectly for buttery baked goods.

Now that I’ve made this recipe totally depressing, let me brighten it up! As I mentioned, these make perfect vanilla cupcakes as well. The cupcake is already vanilla, so we’re good there, and for the frosting, simply replace the extract with pure vanilla. Since vanilla is much less powerful than butterscotch, use a bit more. Say 1 1/2 teaspoons. And dress ‘em up with some cute naturally colored sprinkles or whatever else makes you forget about all of the misery in the world.

OK, now go forth and be sweet and salty!

Recipe Notes

~ I don’t want to scare you off, working with coconut oil isn’t difficult, but you do need to pay attention to a few things. You can not do a one for one swap, or your baked goods will come out greasy because coconut oil pretty much pure fat, whereas margarine has some water and other ingredients in there. I really like to use a little unsweetened apple sauce in combination with the coconut oil. For 1/2 cup of margarine use about 1/3 cup coconut oil and 2 tablespoons applesauce, as I’ve done here.

~ For the frosting, you have to work warm. Otherwise the coconut oil coagulates and just doesn’t act how you want it too. So follow the directions, paying attention to the temperature of both the melted coconut oil and the warm milk.

~ Use refined coconut oil, because otherwise the coconut flavor will be very pronounced. Just be sure that the jar says “expeller pressed” so that you know it’s not overly processed or hydrogenated.

~ If you can’t find vegan butterscotch extract, you can order it online. I think it’s worth it to have around, since it’s such an easy and affordable way to elevate your baked goods with a special flavor. One bottle will last you a lifetime.

~ Lastly, I made these cupcakes into minis. But I am giving directions for full-sized. If you want to make them into minis, bake for 16 minutes, and be advised that they make about 3 dozen minis.

For the vanilla cupcakes:
1 cup plain almond milk, or favorite vegan milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup refined coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce, at room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the butterscotch frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar (sifted if clumpy)
Pinch salt
2 or 3 tablespoons warm plain almond milk, or favorite vegan milk (divided)
1/4 cup refined coconut oil, melted
3/4 teaspoon butterscotch extract

To top:
1/2 cup coconut bacon, prepared or homemade

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and spray lightly with cooking spray oil.

In a measuring cup, mix together the almond milk and apple cider vinegar, and set aside to curdle.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric hand mixer on medium speed to beat the coconut oil, apple sauce and sugars, until it appears caramelly. Now add 1/2 cup of the flour, the baking powder and salt, and beat again. Add half of the milk and another 1/2 cup of the flour and beat until smooth. Staggering the milk/flour helps to achieve a smooth and even batter. Add the remaining milk and flour and beat just until smooth.

Fill cupcake liners most of the way. Bake cupcakes for 20 to 22 minutes, until a butter knife inserted through the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely, and in the meantime, prepare the frosting.

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer, whip the sugar and a pinch of salt with 2 tablespoons of warm milk and half of the melted coconut oil, until well combined. It should be thick but pliable and almost smooth. Add the remaining coconut oil and, if necessary, the remaining tablespoon of warm milk, along with the butterscotch extract. Beat until totally smooth and ribbony.

Refrigerate for about an hour, and whip again. It should be ready to use now! If it’s too thick, add a tablespoon or so of warm milk, until you get the right consistency.

To assemble cupcakes:
Use a large tablespoon to scoop on a good sized amount of frosting. Smooth is out with the back of the spoon, then sprinkle on a scant tablespoon or so of coconut bacon. Serve!

April 4, 2013

Tempeh Chimichurri

Serves 2
Total time: 90 minutes (1-hour marinade) || Active time: 20 minutes

Tempeh Chimichurri

A few things happened this week that had me searing up this succulent tempeh with a bright, fresh, tangy, garlicky, herby sauce.

One was a long conversation at Omaha Vegan Drinks with our friend Hector, who is from Argentina, the land of chimichurri. I would love to visit someday, and he was telling me about some of the traditional foods. (PS They are verrry meat-centric.)

And then the next day, I heard this fabulous story on NPR about a tempeh cooperative in Jakarta, another place on my travel wish-list: “Journey To Java’s ‘Tempeh Village’: Where Soybean Cakes Are Born.” You can read or listen here.

It got me thinking about traditional vegan foods and food history and food future. And how vegan cuisine plays with traditions from all over the world bringing together every corner of our little planet. And so here we are, with Tempeh Chimichurri.

One of my favorite quotes from Hendeko, the tempeh coop manager: “My world revolves around tempeh, I have tempeh every day. Even though there are other dishes, a meal just wouldn’t feel the same without tempeh.”

Soulmate!

I sliced the tempeh thin here so that it would soak up plenty of marinade. Simply slice tempeh into four slabs, then cut each slab in half, like a sandwich. See?

Tempeh

And then I reserved plenty of chimichurri for pouring over the finished dish, so that you get all those bright, fresh flavors. Saute up some asparagus for a few minutes, before cooking the tempeh, and you can serve with a baked potato as well.

And there you have it, a trip to Indonesia and Argentina, all in one.

Recipe Notes

~This recipe serves 2 as an entree, but if you’d like to serve 4, it’s easy. Simply make an extra half serving of the marinade, no need to double it. That will be enough for a pound of tempeh.

~If this is your first time working with tempeh, I wrote a tempeh primer for the Washington Post awhile back. Give it a read!

~If you wanna’ just make the chimichurri, that’s cool, too! It makes a great sauce for black beans, kale and quinoa.

8 oz tempeh, sliced into 8 thin slabs (see pic above)

For the chimichurri:
4 cloves garlic
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup veg broth

For the additional marinade:
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

Also:
Olive oil spray

To serve:
Sauteed or steamed veggies
Baked potato or rice

First, steam tempeh for 10 minutes. This softens up the tempeh and gets it ready to soak up plenty of marinade.

Meanwhile, make the chimichurri. Simply blend all of the sauce ingredients (not the tamari, though) until relatively smooth.

When tempeh is steamed, pour half a cup of chimichurri into a measuring cup and add the soy sauce. (You want the soy sauce in the marinade, but not the finished chimichurri, it would be too aggressive and salty.) Reserve the rest of the chumichurri for pouring over the cooked tempeh.

Place warm tempeh on a plate and pour marinade over. Rub the marinade into the tempeh. Let sit for an hour, flipping once, and rubbing in the marinade again.

Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Spray pan with a thin layer of oil. Place tempeh in a single layer and cook for 4 minutes or so, until lightly browned. Spray with more oil, and flip tempeh, cooking for 3 more minutes. Now add the remaining from the plate marinade and cook for 3 to 5 more minutes, flipping occasionally.

Serve tempeh over veggies, drizzled with more fresh chimichurri.

March 30, 2013

Black Bean & Quinoa Soup

Serves 6
Total time: 40 minutes || Active time: 20 minutes

Black Bean Quinoa Soup

My mailman rarely talks to me, but he made sure to tell me that this soup smelled great when I was cooking it. So, there you go, endorsed by the US Postal Service.

The thing about this soup, is that it’s almost the only time in the world where I don’t rinse the canned beans. The whole shebang is poured right in, creating a flavorful full-bodied broth that is so monumentally satisfying with the chewy quinoa. Of course, we have our usual black bean soup suspects — cumin, oregano, bay, cilantro — and all that flavor just gets sealed into the delicious broth. It’s familiar but definitely not ordinary.

You can certainly customize to your desires; add some kale at the end, maybe even potatoes with the carrots, or corn. I would have used jalapenos if I had some on hand, too. But the red pepper flakes provide a nice heat and this soup hits the spot if you’re craving something spicy and filling, that you can throw avocado on.

Black Bean Quinoa Soup

Recipe Notes

~If you’re wondering why I add only half of the broth at first, it’s so that it boils faster, thus cooking the quinoa faster. It’s just something I do.

~If you’re wondering why I don’t add the beans with the broth at first, it’s because when soup is thick, it takes longer to cook the quinoa. So I let it cook most of the way, then toss in the remaining liquids.

~Black beans tend to be salty, so I’m not adding a specific quantity of salt here. Definitely salt to taste!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced medium
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup quinoa
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4 inch pieces or so
2 bay leaves
4 cups vegetable broth, divided
1 24 oz can black beans
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish

For serving:
Avocado
Tortilla chips

Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Saute onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and saute with the onions for a few seconds. Then add tomato, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook for a minute or so, just to break down the tomatoes a bit.

Add quinoa, carrots and bay leaves, and then pour in 2 cups of the broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes or so, until al dente (that’s mostly tender with a little bite.)

Add the remainder of the broth, the black beans with their cooking liquid, and the cilantro. Cover and bring to a boil, then remove the lid, lower heat to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes or so, to cook the quinoa the rest of the way.

Taste for salt and seasonings and let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the flavors to marry. Remove bay leaves and serve topped with crushed tortillas, avocado and cilantro.

March 26, 2013

Mini Almond Poundcakes

Makes 8 mini-poundcakes

mini almond poundcakes

These cakes are just lovely and darling. The crumb is somehow both dense and fluffy. The edges are crispy and sweet. And the almond flavor is simply bangin’.

And you know how I came up with the recipe? From my box of almond paste! Yes, I shamelessly ripped open the package and veganized one of the recipes that came inside. I actually made it several times, because I didn’t have the correct sized loaf pan, and instead of going out and getting the right size, I thought it was a better idea to futz with the recipe like five times.

Well, by the sixth time, I decided to just make them minis. Minis are so fun and giftable, and you can slice them up and serve with a little vegan cream and strawberries. It’s totally worth it to get a mini-loaf pan, I recommend this one. But if you have a 9×5 loaf pan, you can use that instead. I think the baking time will be more like 50 minutes to an hour, lowering the heat to 325 F after 40 minutes.

almond minis

Recipe Notes

~I was lazy and simply used some premade vegan cream. I recommend either SoyAToo in a box (not the can), or Healthy Top.

~You can make a cute little bite-sized dessert outta’ these, that might be perfect for Spring holiday snacking. Slice a few of the loaves 1/4 inch thick, and top with a dollop of cream and a sliced strawberry. Now you’ve got a great little sweet that’s easy to grab.

~You can also make these into little individual cakes (or, fine, call them cupcakes) by using a muffin tin. Baking time will probably be around 24 minutes. Top with cream and sliced strawberry.

~Marzipan and almond paste are different things, believe it or not. Will marzipan work here? Ya know, maybe it would, but proceed at your own risk because I haven’t tried it.

7 oz almond paste
6 oz extra firm silken tofu (vacuum packed kind, like Mori-nu)
1 cup almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup refined coconut oil, melted

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease an 8-loaf mini-loaf pan.

Break almond paste up into smaller pieces and drop into a blender. Add the tofu, almond milk, and sugar. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula to make sure you get everything. Add the vanilla and stream in the melted coconut oil and blend again.

Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl. Sift in flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until smooth. An electric hand mixer will work best because the batter is quite thick, but a strong metal whisk will get the job done, too.

Fill mini-loaf compartments about 3/4 full, this should be about 1/2 cup of batter. Bake for for 30 minutes, then lower heat to 325 F and bake for 10 more minutes, until lightly browned and firm to the touch.

Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Serve with cream and strawberries.

March 23, 2013

How To Get Perfectly Browned Tofu

Perfectly Browned Tofu

I received this question on Facebook after posting Rice Noodle Salad With Grapefruit-Sriracha Vinaigrette:

“What is the secret to getting nicely browned, crispyish tofu, like what a restaurant would serve? Mine always comes out kinda soft, mushy, etc. I recently tried a firmer tofu – I even pressed out the water. It was better, but still not what I was hoping for. Any tips?

Signed, Soggy Soy In Sacramento”

Dear Soggy Soy,
You are definitely off to a good start by using firmer tofu. I recommend extra-firm tofu, but you can even find super-firm varieties. And yes, pressing tofu is great for soaking up marinade. But the secret to nicely browned tofu isn’t necessarily the tofu itself. The secret is (cue ominous music)….your equipment.

Now, I’m not saying to go out and purchase a $12,000 Viking stove (but if you get one, pick one up for me, too.) The tools I recommend are affordable objects that will take you a long, long way.

1) A cast iron pan. A well-seasoned cast iron pan, to be specific. Even a good quality stainless steel pan won’t do the trick, unless you’re frying it in tons of oil. And even then, your “mush risk” may be high. And those cheapo non-stick pans, well, they may work for a few months, but yuck.

Cast iron will last you a lifetime. And through that lifetime, it’s functions will only improve, because the more you use it, the smoother and more non-stick it becomes.

Because it heats quickly and evenly, it’s ideal for tossing around tofu with minimal oil, without fear or burning or mushing. And another added benefit is that it can go from stovetop to oven, if you ever need to finish something off down below. So get yourself a preseasoned cast iron pan and fall in love. Or better yet, steal a really well-seasoned one from your best friend’s mom, like I did. It’s from the seventies and works like a charm!

And the next most important tool is….

2) A thin, flexible metal spatula. Nothing fancy. Those big ergonomic plastic spatulas may seem friendly, but they’re like clumsy uncles on the dancefloor, tripping everyone else up. You can tell just by looking at them: they are way too thick to flip tofu efficiently. Even if you get your tofu perfectly browned, the spatula can not physically get under the browning to keep it intact. Instead, it tears the “skin” off, leaving the beautifully cooked layer stuck to the pan, and a sad mushy piece of tofu floating around willy nilly.

Before you ask: Wooden spatula? No, pretty much the same problem. Save that for soups. Thin plastic spatula? Uh-uh. Not strong and not precise enough. Some other kind of metal spatula? Not those stiff stainless steel ones. Your spatula needs flexibility. It’s all about sneaking it’s way between the browned surface and the pan.

The good/bad part is that they don’t make spatulas like they used to. The best ones that I’ve found come from thrift stores, and cost under a dollar. Fancy-ass kitchen supply stores tend to only carry the tofu-hating kinds of spatulas. So if you’re buying new, look for those super cheap ones in your supermarket or at a dollar store.

Allow these Instagrams to demonstrate:
SPatulas

Now that we’ve got the equipment covered, let me give you a little advice on actually sauteeing your tofu.

Preheat the cast-iron pan to medium. Don’t add tofu to a cold or luke-warm pan. It needs to hit heat so that it can sear. If you don’t hear a sizzle immediately, your heat is too low. Don’t be shy, turn it up.

Always lightly oil the pan before adding the tofu. A little spray of oil should do it. In fact, I think the less oil you use, the better. You can add a little more as needed during cooking.

Once tofu is in the pan, sprinkle with a little salt, for flavor and for drawing out the moisture.

Let it cook for a few minutes before flipping. The beginning stages of cooking, when the water is being drawn out, aren’t ideal for flipping. The skin may be adhering to the surface of the pan too much. But in a few minutes, when it’s lightly browned, it will release, and become easy to sneak your spatula underneath to flip.

And, that is pretty much it. Flip tofu to brown on all sides, but don’t fuss over getting it perfectly uniform. It really shouldn’t need more than 10 minutes. Then your tofu is ready to be smothered in sauces, stuffed into sandwiches and sacrificed in stir-fries. If you use this method, you don’t even need to press the tofu beforehand, a cursory squeeze over the sink should suffice, just to get a bit of the water out.

So, I hope this wasn’t so long as to be intimidating. Really, it’s nothing. You flip some tofu around in a hot pan. End of story. End of mush. Now let’s get some tofu browning!

Browning tofu

And if you want to read more about cast iron and seasoning, here are a few great links:
A very thorough investigation of cast-iron seasoning and upkeep

How to season a cast-iron skillet. But read the entire series on the Ktchn.