November 9, 2011

Alphabet Soup

Serves 4
Time: 30 minutes

Alphabet Soup

Okay, I realize that the only ABC in here is “O,” but I couldn’t find a decent alphabet pasta at the supermarket (although there are quite a few online if anyone wants to split a 12 pack.)

But still! This is homemade alphabet soup, the kind Andy Warhol might make a painting of. The kind that you used to spell out your name and the name of your cats with when you were a kid. The kind my mom used to put in an omelet! Although I still haven’t found anyone else who grew up on that particular delicacy.

It’s a really really really really really really simple, tomato-based vegetable soup. It’s not especially innovative, but it does exactly what Alphabet Soup is supposed to do — it hits the spot! Everyone needs a basic recipe like this.

Alphabet Soup

I love using yukon gold potatoes since they don’t need to be peeled, but if you’re using russets then peel them first — the texture will be better. Also, if you’re like me and don’t have alphabet pasta, you can use tiny shells, wheels, orzo or macaroni.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced small
2 stalks celery, tops removed, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup baby carrots, in 1/2 inch slices
3/4 pounds yukon gold potatoes, in 1/2 inch dice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried small pasta
1 teaspoon agave syrup
16 ounces tomato sauce
1 cup frozen peas

Preheat a 4 quart soup pot over medium heat. Saute onion and celery in the oil with a pinch of salt until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds or so.

Add carrots, potatoes, thyme, tarragon, vegetable broth and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer, add pasta and cook until pasta and vegetables are soft, about 10 more minutes.

Add agave, tomato sauce and frozen peas and heat through (5 minutes or so.) Remove from heat. It tastes better the longer you let it sit, but give it at least 10 minutes. Taste for salt and seasoning, and serve.

November 7, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake With Pecan Crunch Topping

Serves 8 to 10

Pumpkin Cheesecake

This Pumpkin Cheesecake was among our favorites in Vegan Pie In The Sky! All those autumnal spices with lots of pumpkin flavor and an irresistible pecan crunch topping. It’s so delicious, it makes you feel a little funny. And don’t worry about serving this to even the biggest tofuphobe, they will not complain one bit.

While there are perfectly adequate vegan cream cheeses available in supermarkets, we wanted to come up with a cheesecake formula made with pantry-friendly ingredients, for a few reasons.

One is consistency: different brands will produce different results.

For another, some vegan cream cheeses contain hydrogenated oils. We want to bake with accessible real foods.

Also: the cost. For one recipe, if you’re talking 3 tubs of cream cheese, when all is said and done you’ve just spent a good 25 bucks on a single cheesecake. Ouch! This way, even if you do spend 25 bucks, you have ingredients that will last you awhile and make lots and lots of cheesecakes.

And lastly, well, we just think it tastes better! We worked for months and months to develop the smoothest, creamiest and richest vegan cheesecake base possible. The ingredients we landed on were soaked cashews, coconut oil, banana and silken tofu. The end result is firm but creamy, easy to work with and a dessert that’s a little difficult to not steal bites of. That’s only a bad thing if you care that by the time the guests arrive there’s already a sliver missing.

A few recipe notes before embarking on your vegan cheesecake adventure!

~For the crust, vegan graham crackers can be hard to find. If you can’t find them, you can either make your own, or use gingersnaps. We baked a few of these with gingersnaps and they were amazing!

~Soak the cashews overnight to make quick work of the recipe. You can cover them with plastic wrap if you’re afraid that your kitty will get to them.

~Although this recipe is for a fancy marbled cheesecake, you can skip that step if you’re pressed for time or would just rather not do it. Just mix everything in the filling together instead of dividing the batter and swirling.

~You can use either water packed silken tofu or the vacuum packed kind (like Mori-Nu.) If using Mori-Nu, extra firm silken works best.

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups of finely ground graham crackers or gingersnaps
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons melted non-hydrogenated margarine, melted coconut oil, or canola oil
1 tablespoon plain soy or almond milk.

1/2 cup whole unroasted cashews soaked in water for 2 to 8 hours or until very soft
1/4 cup mashed banana (about half of 1 medium-sized banana)
1 12 to 14 oz package silken tofu, drained
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons coconut oil, at room temperature
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups canned pumpkin puree
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon nonhydrogenated margarine *or* coconut oil
Pinch of salt
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350F and lightly spray a 9 inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a mixing bowl, combine the crumbs and sugar. Drizzle in the oil or melted margarine.

Use a spoon to blend the mixture thoroughly to moisten the crumbs, then drizzle in the soy milk and stir again to form a crumbly dough.

Pour the crumbs into the pan. Press firmly into the bottom. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes until firm. Let the crust cool a bit before filling. Keep oven on 350 to bake the cheesecake.

Make the topping:
In a mixing bowl use a fork to mash together brown sugar, margarine, and salt until crumbly, then fold in the chopped nuts and stir to coat the mixture. Set aside until ready to use.

Make the filling:
Drain the cashews and place in a blender with the banana, tofu, sugar, brown sugar, coconut oil, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla, orange zest, and sea salt. Blend until completely smooth and no bits of cashew remain, a food processor or strong blender should be able to get the job done.

Set aside 1/2 cup of batter. To the remaining batter, add the pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and blend until smooth, then pour it into the crust. Randomly spoon dollops of the reserved batter onto the cheesecake. Poke the end of a chopstick into a batter blob and gently swirl to create a marble pattern; repeat with the remaining dollops.

Bake the cheesecake for 45 to 50 minutes. Remove cheesecake halfway through baking and sprinkle on the topping. Return to oven to continue baking. Cheesecake will be done when the top is lightly puffed and the edges of the cake are golden. Remove it from the oven and let cool on a rack for about 20 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to complete cooling, at least 3 hours or even better if overnight. To serve, slice the cake using a thin, sharp knife dipped in cold water.

November 3, 2011

Marbled Banana Bread

Makes 12 slices

Banana Marble Bread

I was sooo totally kidding when I tweeted that I was working on a book called “Vegan Loafs Gone Wild”, and yet here I am with another lower-fat loaf! I don’t know, something about the ease of the loaf pan, the leisurely cooking time, and just the absolute loafiness of it.

Here we’ve got something that reminds me of pressing my face against the glass dessert case at my neighborhood Jewish bakery. Marbled treats were a childhood fascination and they still hold some of that “How did you do that?” wonder. What can I say, swirls of cocoa are an impressive feat!

It takes a little extra work, and a few extra mixing bowl, but isn’t it worth it to awaken that childhood intrigue? This banana bread is perfectly banana-y, and not too sweet. The outside of the loaf is a little crunchy after being baked, but if you leave it in Tupperware or plastic wrap at room temp overnight, it gets very moist. It tastes great both ways!

Banana Marble Loaf Slice

1 cup mashed very ripe banana
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup almond milk (or your preferred non-dairy milk)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water, divided

Prepare boiling water, no need to measure yet. Also, preheat oven to 350 F.

Mash the banana in a large mixing bowl until relatively smooth. It should take 3 average sized ones, but spoon the mashed ‘nanas into a measuring cup to make sure, then return to the mixing bowl. Beat in the sugar, canola oil, milk and vanilla.

Now add the flour, baking soda and salt and gently mix just to incorporate. It’s okay if there is some flour still visible, just be careful not to overmix at this point.

Scoop one cup of the batter up and transfer it to a separate mixing bowl. Now, in a small tea cup mix the cocoa powder with 3 tablespoons boiling water and stir vigorously with a fork until the chocolate is dissolved. Add this chocolate mixture to the one cup of banana and mix until the chocolate is thoroughly smooth and incorporated.

Now back to the original plain banana batter; add 3 tablespoons of boiling water and mix the batter just until relatively smooth.

Here comes the fun part, it’s time to marble! Lightly grease an 8×4 loaf pan. Scoop alternate 1/2 cupfuls of chocolate/banana batter into the loaf pan. Nothing has to be precise here, in fact, the more random, the better. Once all of the batter is in, take a butter knife and swirl it through the batter in circular directions for about 10 seconds.

Bake for 55 minutes. Use a butter knife to test for doneness. Let cool and enjoy!

October 28, 2011

Tempeh Orzilla

Serves 4
Time: 45 minutes

I’ve been living some sort of Memento/Groundhog’s Day nightmare in the pasta aisle. Every time I get there, I grab a bag of orzo and think “It’ll be fun to make something with this!” Then I get home and open the pantry door and a whole pile of orzo falls on me and knocks me unconscious. Then I get amnesia, and I head back to the pasta aisle…this goes on for days.

So I thought it was about time I used some orzo. It also happens to be the week where I challenged myself not to use my three most-used spices (cumin, thyme and fennel FYI.) And even though I use anise seed (and got called a cheater on Facebook), it was a learning experience for me because I’ve always been wary of using anise in savory dishes (or fennel in sweet.) But I really dug it here!

The end result was a fun saucy pasta dish full of texture and flavor. Brothy orzo with velvetty ribbons of spinach, succulent bites of sundried tomatoes and garlic. Lots and lots of garlic! I especially loved the texture and flavor contrast with the sausagey bites of crumbled tempeh on top, and the soft saucy orzo below. It was almost impossible to stop eating, and totally perfect for a weeknight meal. Thank the stars I have that pantry full or orzo because I think I’m addicted. I’m calling it Orzilla because Orzo With Spinach And Sundried Tomatoes With Crumbled Anise Tempeh is just too long to type. And because it destroys cities.

8 oz orzo

For the tempeh
8 oz tempeh
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1 tablespoon soy sauce

For the sauce:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes (dry ones, not the oil packed kind)
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 cup dry white wine wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh black pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3 cups baby spinach

To prepare the tempeh:
For time management, I steam the tempeh first, and prep the veggies, then rinse out the pot and boil salted water for the orzo. So, tear the tempeh into bite sized pieces and steam for 10 minutes. Set tempeh aside and proceed with the recipe.

Preheat a small pan over medium heat. Saute tempeh in oil for about 10 minutes, mashing the tempeh into crumbles with your spatula as you go. Add the spices and soy sauce, and saute another 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and cover until ready to use.

To prepare the pasta and sauce:
Boil orzo until al dente, then drain.

In the meantime, preheat a large pan over medium heat. Saute the onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds more.

Add rosemary, wine and sundried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and turn the heat up to bring the sauce to a simmer. Let simmer until reduced by about half, 5 minutes or so.

Add broth and yeast and warm through. Then add the spinach in handfuls, letting each batch wilt before adding the next. Cook until spinach is thoroughly wilted then turn the heat off, add the orzo, mix well, and serve topped with tempeh crumbles.

October 24, 2011

Peanut Butter Caramel Apples

Makes 6 Apples

This recipe originally appeared in my column “Nickle & Dined” for Bust Magazine. Check out Bust for more delicious and affordable recipes!

Do you love to spread creamy peanut butter on crisp, sweet apples? This recipe takes that heaven and times it by 10. And just in time for Halloween!

Caramel making is an art, one you might not have time to perfect in between doling out candy to the neighborhood ghouls and crafting up your perfect slutty angel costume. This recipe dumbs it down with a secret ingredient: brown rice syrup. Now, it may not be the cheapest ingredient out there – it costs around 6 dollars for a jar – but it pretty much guarantees your caramel will turn out perfect. It also saves you some money at the dentist! The natural sugars in brown rice syrup will be much easier on your pearly whites.

Salty roasted peanuts top off the apple, making all your ooey gooey salty and sweet dreams come true. These little caramel apples are so fun and easy you can definitely get kids involved in the process! But don’t get your cats involved, trust me, it will be a disaster.

6 Granny Smith or Macintosh apples
1/2 cup well-stirred smooth natural peanut butter, at room temperature (I recommend Arrowhead Mills)
1/2 cup brown rice syrup, at room temperature
1 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped well
6 bamboo skewers
Wax paper

Stick skewers through the bottoms of the apples. Make sure apples are secure. Set aside.

Spread a piece of parchment paper over a cutting board. Make room in your fridge for the cutting board, because you’ll be chilling the whole shebang.

Stir peanut butter and brown rice syrup together in a small sauce pan. Gently heat over low heat, stirring constantly with a fork, just until smooth and heated through. It should fall from your fork in ribbons. If it seems stiff, turn the heat off immediately and add a little extra brown rice syrup, until it’s fluid again. This happens because different peanut butters have varying amounts of moisture.

Use a spoon to spread peanut butter caramel over the entire apple. Sprinkle with peanuts, pressing peanuts into the caramel to make them stick. It’s ok if a few fall off. Place apple upside down on the wax paper and continue with the rest of the apples.

Transfer the cutting board with the apples to the fridge. Let set for at least 3 hours. Now apples are ready to eat!