October 20, 2011

Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf

Serves 12

This loaf is dense, chocolaty and moist, with undertones of pumpkin and autumnal spices laced throughout. It’s also lower in fat than most dessert loaves, with only 2 tablespoons of oil in the batter. To add to the chocolatiness, I threw in some chocolate chips, and you may like to add other yummy things, like pecans or walnuts. But I’ll take my chocolate straight up, please!

There’s a funny little method with boiling water in this recipe and you may wonder why I use it. The answer is simple: I don’t exactly know. Well, I know why I use it, but I’m not positive why it works. What you do is add boiling water alternately as you add the dry ingredients to wet. I was introduced to this method in Nigella’s monumental book “How To Be A Domestic Goddess” with her recipe for a chocolate loaf cake, and I’ve used it ever since. I’ve tried to disobey it, thinking it was frivolous and unneeded, only to be greeted by a loaf whose crumb was not as fine and rise was not as perfectly formed. And so I’ve stopped fighting it. Maybe it has to do with the baking soda, I don’t know, just use it.

I love this loaf still a little bit warm, but anyway you slice it (har har) it will be delicious and no one will guess that it’s lower in fat.

PS I have a feeling that people will ask if they can make this in muffin tins, so let me get that out of the way. You can! I haven’t tried it, but I think you’re gonna’ want to fill the cups 3/4 of the way (you might not get 12, but let me know) and bake for about 20 minutes.

PPS I also have a feeling people will ask if they can completely omit the oil. I prefer a little fat in my baked goods, but I bet that subbing it with applesauce would be just dandy.

1/4 cup applesauce
2 tablespoons coconut oil (or canola oil)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons boiling water, divided (see note)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly grease an 8 inch loaf pan. Also, boil some water in a tea kettle (no need to measure yet.)

Put applesauce, coconut oil and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, spices, baking soda and salt.

Measure out 1/3 cup boiling water and pour into the bowl with the chocolate mixture, mixing quickly to make a smooth chocolate sauce. Add pumpkin, sugar and vanilla and mix well.

Dump about half of the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture and gently stir just to incorporate, then measure out 1 tablespoon of boiling water and stir again. Now add the rest of the flour mixture and another tablespoon of boiling water and stir just until smooth. Take care not to overmix. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. It will be good and thick. You can smooth the top out with a spatula.

Bake for 55 minutes to an hour. Stick a steak knife into the center of the loaf to check for doneness. A little bit of wetness is okay since it could be from a chocolate chip, but the knife should come out mostly dry.

Let cool for 10 minutes, then invert pan and place loaf on a cooling rack to cool most of the way. It’s yummy a little bit warm, or thoroughly cooled. Slice and serve!

October 18, 2011

Mushroom Hot Pot

Serves 6
Time: 1 hour || Active time: 30 minutes

Autumn in Omaha is slightly magical. The light seems to come in two varieties, silver or gold, and sometimes the glow makes it feel like the prairies are threatening to take over; the concrete will start falling away and luscious grasses will spring up everywhere, wildflowers and meadow as far as the eye can see.

It was a day like this when these flavors seemed to possess me. I was planning on a simple soup for lunch, standing in the produce aisle, examining some veggie or other, when seemingly out of nowhere, my senses were overtaken by star anise, lemongrass, ginger. Then the words formed on my lips: hot pot. The name alone should win you over on a rainy autumn day.

I first had Hot Pot at a Vietnamese restaurant, and you often see it on menus called “Mongolian Hot Pot.” But I’m not going to get into the history, primarily because I only have a GED, but also because I want to get to the fun part. The experience!

The idea is similiar to fondue. A simmering vessel of rich broth surrounded by delicious tidbits that you can mix and match in your own bowl. You can totally dip, too, but I think it’s more satisfying (and perhaps neater) to have your own little serving.

If you’re looking at the ingredients list and thinking that you don’t have any of these items laying around your kitchen, can I appeal to the part of you that looks past pantry ingredients, and speak to your heart instead? It is always worth it to branch out and add new things to your repertoire. It doesn’t have to be this recipe, maybe you grew up eating star anise and lemongrass, but remember to try something new on occasion. Great cooking, like a great road movie, isn’t always about the destination – half the fun is just getting there.

That being said, this isn’t particularly time consuming or anything, and all of the ingredients can easily be found at Whole Foods. They’re not very expensive, either!

I use dried shiitakes because they have an even more concentrated flavor than fresh and they’re also much cheaper. And since hot pot is often served with thinly sliced meats, these meaty morsels really do the job.

And speaking of prairie grasses, have you cooked much with lemongrass? It adds a sultry perfume to stews, and it’s really just a fun ingredient to work with. Who doesn’t want to walk around the grocery store with tall stalks of grass poking out of their cart? You only use the inner core of the the bulb at the very bottom of the stalk. Peel away the outer leaves until you get to the smooth, cool, core. Cut off a sliver of the bottom, and mince. You’ll probably need 3 stalks for this recipe. You can also reserve the rest of the stalk for a broth.

And if you’re not going in for the whole ceremony of it, that’s fine, too. At it’s most basic, this is just a really delicious soup that will warm you right up. I’d say that the only necessary serving suggestions are the fresh herbs, everything else is up to you in terms of what you have time for, how many people you’re serving and how hungry everyone is.

And one last thing, I don’t actually have a fondue pot or anything. You can just place the pot on a trivet in the middle of the table. It won’t have a chance to get cold!

4 cups mushroom or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon organic cornstarch

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (regular vegetable oil will do, too)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
Big pinch salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 star anise
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 oz dried shiitakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari to make it gluten free)
1 roughly chopped tomato
Fresh black pepper

15 oz can lite coconut milk
Juice of half a lime

To serve (obviously just pick and choose, these are just suggestions):
Cooked rice noodles or jasmine rice
Fresh cilantro
Fresh basil (thai basil if you can find it)
Grilled tofu (seasoned simply with sesame oil, black pepper and salt)
Roasted cashews
Cooked aduki beans
Thinly sliced sauteed seitan
Steamed broccoli or cauliflower
Finely sliced bok choy
Extra wedges of fresh lime

Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium heat. Mix the cornstarch into the broth and set aside (this is easiest if you just mix it into about a cup of broth, then pour the rest of the broth in.) Saute onion and pepper in the oil with a big pinch of salt, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic, lemongrass, ginger and red pepper flakes and mix in. Cook until fragrant, about a minute, then stream in the broth/cornstarch mixture and add most of the other ingredients: star anise, cinnamon,  shiitakes, soy sauce, tomatoes and fresh black pepper. Stir often for the first 10 minutes or so, until the cornstarch has thickened the broth a bit. Now cover pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to simmer and cook covered for a good half hour, until mushrooms are completely softened.

Add coconut milk and lime, and taste for salt. Heat through and serve with fresh herbs and other accoutrement.

October 13, 2011

October Newslettery Type Thing

Falling leaves, apple picking, Occupying Wall Street…we’re off to a fabulous Autumn, aren’t we? Here’s everything that’s going on with me in one tidy little note.

Firstly, The Teal Cat Project is hosting a virtual event this Sunday Oct. 16th for National Feral Cat Day. It’s called the Teal Nail Project, and all you have to do is paint your nails teal. Is there anything teal can’t do?

And our new book Vegan Pie In The Sky hit the shelves this week! People have finally got them in their hot little hands (and paws)! Please help spread the word and share this link far and wide! Thank you times a million. (Kitten photo from Joyfulgirl.)

Also, today is the last day of Aprons for Animals. (I just made that title up on the spot.) Bid on an apron and 100% of the moola goes to For The Animals Sanctuary in New Jersey. Let’s get those numbers into the triple digits! I’ll also include an autographed postcard signed to whoever you want. And, ok, if it goes into the triple digits I’ll include a lipstick kiss.

Don’t forget that the Vegan Month of Food is still going strong! Discover new blogs, connect with other food enthusiasts, get inspired and win prizes! We have giveaways planned for the entire month. Super awesome ones.

Will you be in Atlanta on Oct. 30th? I will! And so will pie. Join me at Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe!

And finally, there is a link going around written by a certain feline, that contains a lot of off-color remarks about me. Please pay it no mind, all of the claims are completely false and I will prove it in a court of law.

OK thanks for reading, and have a delicious autumn!

October 11, 2011

Scalloped Potatoes And Eggplant Bacon

Serves 8
Time: 1 1/2 hours || Active time: 30 minutes

It’s casserole season! Time to spend a little more time in the kitchen, time for potlucks and gatherings, time to sit in front of the TV watching Little House On The Prairie reruns and eating an entire casserole by yourself, am I right?

The original inspiration for this was my boyfriend’s description of Scalloped Potatoes and Ham. Not something I ever had as a child, but I can see the appeal. Cream of celery soup, tender layers of thinly sliced potato, browned on top, what’s not to love? Well, besides that ham. This casserole is creamy, dreamy, rich and made smoky with the addition of Eggplant Bacon.

I actually see a world of possibility here…swap the potatoes out for root vegetables or sweet potatoes, add roasted red peppers or fennel, use tempeh bacon instead; this casserole is your template! And if you’re simply just searching for a perfect scalloped potato recipe, this might be it, so go ahead and leave the bacon out. These would be perfect for any holiday table, or anywhere mashed potatoes would be appropriate.

The key to perfectly cooked potatoes is to slice them thinly – aim for between 1/8 and 1/4 thick. And seal the casserole in tinfoil until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, then (and only then) do you uncover the casserole to let everything get nice and brown.

Other notes for this recipe:
~Slice the potatoes when the onions are cooking, that way they don’t turn brown while you’re waiting for everything else to be ready.

~You can actually use roasted cashews here if you like. I usually use unroasted to make cashew creme, but I was out of it and the roasted ones worked just fine!

~If you’re making the eggplant bacon, this will take considerably more time, so add 30 minutes to your cooking time.

~If you’re looking for a gluten-free option, I love to make breadcrumbs out of gluten-free pretzels. You can also sub the breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons cornstarch.

~If you don’t have a rectangular 2 quart casserole, square will work, too.

1 cup whole cashews soaked in water for 2 hours or up to overnight
2 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced

1/4 cup store-bought breadcrumbs (if using homemade, increase to 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Fresh black pepper

3/4 teaspoons salt

2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced (about 3 large)
1 recipe Eggplant Bacon

Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Place the drained cashews and vegetable broth in a food processor and blend until completely smooth, scraping the sides of the food processor with a spatula occasionally to make sure you get everything. This could take 5 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat a large pan over medium heat. Saute the onions and celery in the oil, along with a dash of salt. Cook until onions are nice and brown, about 10 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and toss to coat onions and celery. Cook until the breadcrumbs turn a few shades darker, about 3 minutes.

Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350 F.

Pour the cashew mixture into the pan and lower heat a bit. Mix well. Add lemon juice, several dashes black pepper and salt. Let cook for 2 minutes, it should begin to thicken. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning if needed.

Now we’ll put this baby together!

Lightly spray a 2 quart casserole rectangular with cooking spray (or lightly grease with olive oil). Pour half of the sauce into the casserole. Now arrange potatoes and eggplant into the casserole, dredging potatoes in sauce a bit as you layer. They should be in slightly overlapping layers, with a slice of bacon in between each potato.

Pour the remaining sauce over the potatoes. They should be mostly submerged. Use a rubber spatula to spread the sauce on if needed.

Seal tightly with tin foil and bake for about 45 minutes, or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until nice and brown.

Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve!

October 11, 2011

Eggplant Bacon

Serves 8
Time: 30 minutes

These are the perfect little morsels to tuck into a BLT, or a Caesar Salad. Anywhere delicious smoky saltiness is warranted! The perfect slice has varying textures from crisp and browned in some spots, to tender and chewy in others. To that end, hand slice these babies instead of using a mandoline and aim for 1/8 inch slices, but don’t worry about perfection. The varying degrees of thickness will work to your advantage here. Just don’t get too thick, the eggplant needs to crisp up and slices that are much thicker will just get soggy.

This recipe is so easy you’ll be making eggplant bacon in your sleep! It was originally published in Appetite For Reduction, but this version is doubled. If you don’t feel like dealing with two pans, feel free to half the recipe.

1 pound eggplant, cut into 1/8 inch thick strips
1/4 cup soy sauce (or tamari if you’re gluten free)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prep the eggplant while the oven is preheating. Eggplants vary in size, so if using baby eggplant that is 2 inches wide at its widest, just slice into 1/8 inch thick circles. If using large eggplants, first cut in half lengthwise, then slice the halves into 1/8 inch thick halfmoons. Now what we’re going to do is bake it at a high temperature with just a bit of cooking spray oil, then let it cool, then give it smoky salty flavor and reheat.

Cover baking sheets in parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Arrange eggplant pieces in a single layer and spray lightly once more. Place in oven and bake for about 8 minutes, keeping a close eye. Rotate pans about halfway through baking.

Remove from oven and flip slices. They should be browning already, and if any are slightly burnt, don’t worry. Just move them to a plate to cool. Return remaining strips to the oven for about 3 minutes.

Remove from oven. Eggplant should be dark brown to burnt in some places, and yellowish white and tender in some places. Transfer to a plate to prevent further baking.

Lower oven to 350 F. Mix soy sauce and liquid smoke together in a large bowl. Dip eggplant slices in mixture a few at a time and return to the baking sheet. Bake for about 3 more minutes, until heated through. Serve! Keeps well for a few more hours, but definitely use these the day of.