Friday, December 28, 2012

Conquering my Vegan Cheesecake Phobia

Happy Holidays everyone! I know it's been a little while again since I've posted, but it's been a very busy holiday (read: baking) season. Earth Balance held its' 3rd annual Holiday Bake Off, so naturally I gleefully submitted 4 entries for the 4 different categories over the last month. This year's prize is a Vegas Getaway and $1,000, plus so much more. Mon dieu! I hope I win :)

The contest is of course holiday themed, and I knew everyone would be doing the traditional pumpkin pie up the wazoo, so I wanted to create something different to dazzle the eyes and palate. Something not too heavy, yet bursting with richness of flavors. For the pie category, this year I wanted to make a cheesecake. I will admit I was pretty leery of tackling a vegan cheesecake. I know it can be done, duh! For years now I've seen many beautiful baked or raw vegan cheesecakes in cafes, restaurants and online and have been baffled by how they make them. Years ago I was asked to make one for a client and used tofu, and the end product tasted overly sweet and soy-beany and left MUCH to be desired. Ick. (Imagine a 1970's pre-tofu cream cheese world.) It left me scarred! Granted, my baking skills have evolved since then but I was still apprehensive to now try it again. I love tofu- but as a rule I don't bake with it unless it's silken and pureed with lots of chocolate, extracts and other things to mask its' apparent flavor. You vegan bakers know what I'm talking about- everyone thinks that just because you're baking vegan you must need prunes, tofu and applesauce to replace the eggs and butter, right? haha. Love that stereotype.

After much experimentation I came up with a VERY pleasing recipe which I look forward to playing with in the future. Funny story, I actually bought tofu to use (and I was still apprehensive to use it!), but when it came down to the moment of removing it from the package to combine with the other ingredients, I noticed I grabbed the wrong kind (firm)! It wasn't meant to be, so I just risked it and left it out. I was worried it wouldn't set up and stabilize and all those things you think tofu is supposed to do. Did it come out okay? You bet your sweet bippy it did, the end result was incredibly creamy, light, refreshing and smooth.

Coconut-Ginger-Lime Cheesecake with Cardamom-Pistachio Crust and Rum-Nog Caramel 

 The pistachio-cardamom crust pressed into the springform pan. I liked the uneven nature of it, you can see in the pic below how it looked after being baked.

Baking the lovely cheesecake in the oven, in a pan of water. A traditional steam method which I'd never tried before. The springform pan is wrapped in foil to prevent water from seeping in. 

This is the Rum-Nog Caramel sauce which deserves a freaking award! I was so impressed with it, I took this video to show its' thick and caramel-y nature!  The Earth Balance Holiday Soy Nog is so delicious and its' flavor and creamy texture work brilliantly in this caramel sauce.

To see the recipe, you can go to Earth Balance's blog, at Made Just Right

Thanks for reading, friends! I'll be posting all of my Holiday Bake Off Recipes here over the next week. If you're looking for vegan recipes, you must look at the Made Just Right blog, it's LOADED with amazing submitted recipes, both sweet and savory! Once again, Happy Holidays and happy baking!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Parchment Surprise!


Well, today I'm going to share a fun tip I experimented with successfully a couple of weeks ago. One of those fine days after my sis and I picked a couple bushels of apples, I made the most delicious apple pie. I had some extra crust from trimming edges, so I rolled it out and threw in the frig and forgot about it. 3 days later I pulled it out and thought, "what the hell, I'll just make a quick little galette and call it dessert". So I rolled it out a little more, it was kinda dry on the edges, but it worked. I threw in some cinnamon-sugared apples, ruffled its' edges and was about to bake it on a parchment lined pan when..... hmmm......

I realized the apples might not cook fast enough in the thin and fragile crust that encased them. So what if I steamed it? What's the worst thing that could happen? I've done it before with veggies, why not a fruit tart? So I grabbed the stapler and closed 'er up inside the parchment and waited. I baked it about 30 minutes, and was SO pleasantly surprised when I opened the little parchment package. Not only were the apples cooked to perfection, but the crust was PERFECT and golden! The bottom even caramelized from the fruits' juices, and that gave it a sweet gilded addition. It was, I might say, even more delicious than the pie I had made a few days prior so methodically and with such diligence.

Parchment surprise!

 So, boys and girls, try it out! I imagine it would work great for other firm fruits of this season too, such as quince or pears. Let me know what you think! How would you use this new (to me) discovery? Happy baking!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

MoFo continues with Gnocchi!

Continuing along with my Harvest theme, today I'd like to write about Gnocchi today. 

Gnocchi (pronounced knee-O-key), is kinda like a potato dumpling, made simply from cooked potato, flour, and salt. Some folks use egg in them, but naturally, I leave out that ingredient. I once read an article on how true Italian Gnocchi doesn't contain egg, they just need to be properly prepared. This made me feel better, that I was doing it in a traditional fashion like so many Italian grandmothers have been for ages. :)

My sister and I spent an afternoon a couple weeks ago digging out Kennebecs and Yukon Golds from her garden, with the help of Duncan too of course.... :)

There was quite the yield and we were joking how there was no GMO potatoes there! Every single one was different and had its' own character. Lots of funky little guys came outta the ground, it was like Christmas. We didn't know what we were gonna find!

As we were diggin em up, we were chatting about what we could make with this mountain of fresh tators. Shepherds Pie, mashed potatoes, baked wedges, creamy potato soup.... and then I thought of Gnocchi. Pasta and potatoes combined into one? Drool! First time I ever had Gnocchi was on my first trip to France (yes, France, not Italy oddly) in high school with French Club. I went to lunch with 2 of my travel mates and ordered Gnocchi aux quatre fromages. Yes, pre-vegan days for sure! I received a giant bowl of Gnocchi, smothered in a 4 cheese sauce. It was to die for! Ever since then I've been a fan, and maybe once a year I'll set aside a day to slave away at the delicious lil suckers.

Seeing as its fall, I wanted to pair it with a succulent savory sauce, sort of reminiscent of holiday flavors. I went with a sage-pecan pesto.

 I wouldn't say I have the Gnocchi recipe perfected in anyway, so I'm not including it. I added a LOT of flour as I went along, and was kneading it in until the very end shaping the little balls. The end result was incredibly tasty and had the perfect texture.

Started with boiling the potatoes and peeling them after they were cooked, then roughly mashing them up with a fork. Set aside to cool and dry out a little bit.

The potatoes, flour and salt combined into a dough.

Dividing up the dough to begin shaping it into little gnocchilettes!

Once they were all finished, they were boiled for a few minutes until floating, and then finished in the cast iron skillet to be seared and lightly crisped. They were then tossed with the sage-pecan pesto, and served with roasted butternut squash.... also from the garden :) Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Harvest time MoFos!

Happy Fall everyone! 

It's October 2nd, and I'm feeling the amorous arms of Autumn enfolding me in her colorful embrace! Tonight I'm in my new sublet, sipping on tea, listening to Lord Huron (thank you Morgan!) and feel cozy as hell on this crisp, fall evening.

I just moved back to Wisconsin this summer, back to my homeland and family, after being gone the last 12 years (in California mostly). My tumbleweed days are over and I'm settin roots in Madison, and it feels great to be here! The first two months back here I stayed with my sister, brother-in-law and lil nephew, in their lovely house down in the quaint and lovely Shullsburg, WI. It was an incredible homecoming to be at their home in the country. Nothin but a blanket of stars, mooing cows, corn fields, golden rolling hills, and more heirloom tomatoes than you can shake a stick at!

It's been a long while again since last I posted, but I've got a little fire under my tushy this month by the name of Vegan MoFo. Vegan MoFo stands for Vegan Month of Food, clever eh? It's a dear little side project of PPK, Post Punk Kitchen for those of you not familiar. To explain further, PPK is how Miss Isa Chandra Moskowitz (vegan cupcakes take over the world) got her start, and now she's the famed vegan cookbook author. I've never been a part of this before, so I figured why the hell not! If anyone should be a part of this MoFo action I should! I always love a good excuse to get in the kitchen and document my creations. What this entails is a commitment to blog at least 20 times for the month of October.  All vegan, all yummeh, bring it on!

After chatting with my sis about this MoFo business, we both thought it would be great to dedicate my Mofo ramblings to the amazing and ever giving Harvest and the Autumn delights therein. I've never canned or preserved so much in my life than I did in the last month. Everyday it was 40 more pounds of tomatoes to can, or we were picking apples for applesauce, or bringing home buckets of elderberries, grapes or raspberries, diggin the tators out of the ground, picking spinach for the salad that night.... the list goes on.

Harlansan Apples

Heaven, is what it was! Just me and my sis, and hours, DAYS, to play with incredibly fresh, beautiful, homegrown food! Therefore, I'd love to dedicate this month to all of that gorgeous bounty and share the beauty that my sis and I cooked, baked or put in jars, and also all of the other delights that Autumn brings forth.
Crackled Spicers
So let's get to it!! Today's post is a scrumptious spicy fall cookie.
My sister was craving a pumpkin cookie, or some kinda spicy goodness, and before I knew it we were bustin em out. The result was reminiscent of a molasses ginger cookie my dad would often buy when we were growing up. These came out soft and chewy inside, crunchy on the outside from the cinnamon-sugar they were rolled in, and bursting with spices. We didn't hold back, and threw in a gang o' spices, and I'm glad we didn't. They were spice-tastic and lasted only a couple of days.Wish I had one right now! They went fabulously with chai, soy lattes and tea. Mmmm.

Spicy Fall Cookies 
2 cups Unbleached Flour
2 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsp. Cinnamon
2 tsp. Ginger powder
1 1/2 tsp. Clove powder
1 1/2 tsp. Cardamom powder
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg, fresh grated
1 cup Earth Balance (baking sticks or spread)
1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Cane Sugar
1/4 cup Maple Syrup
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Additional for rolling dough in: 
1/4 cup Cane Sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2) In a medium sized bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda and spices. Stir to mix them all together. Set aside.
3) In a larger bowl or stand mixer, cream together the Earth Balance, sugars, vanilla, salt and maple syrup. Scrape down the sides and mix again.
4) In 1/2 cup increments, add in the dry flour/spice mixture into the mixer until the wet and dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.
5) Combine additional sugar and cinnamon and stir to combine. Roll balls of dough in your hands and drop into the spiced sugar. Roll them around to coat completely, then place on a cookie sheet and flatten slightly. The cookie will spread slightly, so keep them 1-2 inches apart. 
6) Bake cookies for about 10-12 minutes, depending how soft you like them. 

Enjoy! See you soon for more MoFo action :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy New Year, YAY Me!

Well, again, it's been awhile folks, but I return with much great news! First of all, Happy New Year! I feel as though this is going to be a great year and I will accomplish much. I'm going to shoot for that cookbook project I mentioned last year (making a vegan desserts book) and also try to get back into my cooking more and more.

A good fire under my ass is always that lovely company, King of the Buttery spreads, EARTH BALANCE! This past December they again held their holiday bake-off and...... I WON AGAIN! I'm so so grateful to Earth Balance for picking me as a winner. I won a $400 Whole Foods gift card, a years supply of Earth Balance product, and some other fun items including a beautiful bamboo cutting board! If that's not inspiration for starting off this new year and my cookbook project (which needs a name!) I don't know what is. So YAY ME!

Here is the winning link!
And a link to the winning recipe. Spiced Sweet Potato Cake with Coconut Buttercream Frosting and Brown Sugar Rum Sauce.

I was originally going to make this cake with pumpkin or butternut, but at the last moment I saw these two lovely and fat sweet potatoes on my counter begging to be featured in my experimental cake. I obliged them. The result was an incredibly moist, fluffy, beautiful cake and I was quite impressed with how nicely it came out. I took a spin off of my traditional vegan buttercream and added coconut cream and used Earth Balance's new Coconut Spread, and it tasted delightfully of sweet and buttery coconut. To finish it off I made a sort of rum caramel sauce to soak into each of the layers and to drizzle on plates and anywhere else that demanded a drizzle of rum caramel.

One of my trusty kitchen steeds, the microplane! Doin its' job on ginger, orange and nutmeg. If you don't yet have one of these tools in your kit, I highly suggest it! I could've used dried ginger and store bought nutmeg, but why do that when you can shred it fresh?! It makes a difference.

Gorgeous! The sweet potato color sure stayed vibrant, even in the baked cakes yielding a nice golden hue. Their juicy nature made for a lovely moist cake, which became even more juicy with a good dose of rum sauce in between each layer. :)

I will be posting the rest of my recipe entries in the next week. Thank you for coming and reading. Wishing you all a wonderful, happy and healthy 2012 filled with lots and lots of great food!