Saturday, July 15, 2006

Crepes with Coconut Gelato, Orange Blossom "Honey," and Pistachios

On holiday while studying in the middle east, I traveled to the Mediterranean city of Antalya, Turkey with friends. We visited Perga, and stared at the sky, and were awed by the slow beauty of it all. One morning, running on the stone-covered beach, I managed to stretch a quick jog into a 12 mile quest to reach the nearby mountains. Everything just seemed otherworldly.

And, the Falez hotel. Amidst the standard bellydancing and Turkish massages was the most extensive breakfast buffet I had ever seen. Each morning, I filled a plate with crepes, then covered it in pistachios, honey, and shredded coconut.

This dessert celebrates the rich flavors of Turkey*. Coconut Gelato is served over Crepes, then drizzled with Orange Blossom "Honey," and sprinkled with pistachios. The Gelato is simple, and you can use any vegan crepe recipe, to which I recommend tossing in a pinch of cardamom. The addition of orange blossom water to agave nectar creates an amber syrup with a surprising likeness to honey. Pistachios round out an otherwise very sweet combination of flavors.

*I can't attest to the dessert's authenticity, as my Turkish friends usually offer tea, ekmek (bread), and something containing copious amounts of potatoes.

Coconut Gelato
makes 1 quart

2 14-ounce cans coconut milk (not low fat)
1 tablespoon agar flakes
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup evaporated cane juice or sugar (substitute agave nectar for a lower-glycemic option)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional, for a creamier gelato)

Simmer the agar flakes in the 1/2 cup water until dissolved. Set aside.

In a blender, combine the coconut milk, sweetener, vanilla, and sea salt. Pass the agar mixture through a sieve into the blender, and blend again. Refrigerate until completely cool, about 1 hour. Blend again, adding the coconut oil if desired.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Without an ice cream maker, you can freeze the mixture in a shallow dish, whisking every 15 minutes, to make a coconut slush.

Orange Blossom "Honey"

1/2 cup agave nectar
2 teaspoons orange blossom water**

Stir together the agave and orange blossom water. Store in a jar at room temperature, or in the refrigerator.

**Orange blossom water can be found at most middle eastern groceries. Try substituting rosewater sometime, which adds an entirely different flavor dimension and compliments the coconut nicely.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Italian Cornmeal Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream and Strawberries

The first cake I ever made for my husband had white chocolate icing and fresh strawberries. Today was his birthday, and he swears the vegan adaptation is just as good. I love birthday cakes, with their candles and cartoonish decoration. For these celebrations, forget sophistication; give me kitsch!

Layered with fresh strawberries and White Chocolate Buttercream, this Italian Cornmeal Cake is dense and just slightly sweet. Like a classic meringue buttercream, the icing is ultrarich but light. Strawberries prevent it from being cloying, as would dark chocolate, citrus, or any other tangy fruit.

White Chocolate Buttercream
makes about 4 cups

1 cup non-hydrogenated shortening (Spectrum organics makes a good one)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) non-hydrogenated margarine
2 tablespoons soy milk powder
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons soy cream or soymilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, beat the shortening and margarine with an electric hand mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) until smooth. Sift in the soy milk powder, and blend. Add half the powdered sugar and continue beating until incorporated. Add the remaining powdered sugar.

On a stovetop or in the microwave, scald the soy cream. While whipping the buttercream, slowly drizzle in the soy cream. Beat in the vanilla extract. Press plastic wrap directly against the surface of the buttercream and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use*. Allow to thaw completely before spreading.

*The next time you make a cake, please, please consider getting a pastry bag, coupler, and tip. Then try some simple piping, back and forth, expand and contract. It's easy to learn by practicing on saran wrap or waxed paper, and you can eat your mistakes. It doesn't have to look perfect; the effort is everything.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Chickpea Curry with Chapatis

In this curry, spices are dry toasted, then sauteed in sesame oil with garlic, ginger, and onion. Tomatoes, coconut milk, and chickpeas are added and left to simmer for up to an hour. Spinach finishes the curry just before serving. This is great as leftovers, and can also be served over basmati rice.

I haven't got the amounts down, as I just taste until it's "right," but the spices were: curry leaves, tumeric, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, dried red chili, black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Chapati, also known as phulka, is one of the many unleavened flatbreads served in India and East Africa. Although this dough is actually a pizza crust recipe (minus the yeast), they're very simple to make with only flour and water, kneaded until elastic. Oil or salt are sometimes added. The chapati is then rolled out and cooked on a hot griddle.

Some cooks finish chapati or roti directly over the stove, so they lighten and puff up. I actually prefer a denser chapati and omit this step. Instead of the usual ghee, these are brushed lightly with sesame oil.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Summer Berries

We picked these from the garden the other day. Beautiful!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Watermelon Salad

Remember those vodka-filled watermelons you used to pass at frat house barbecues?

Right. I’ve never been to a frat party either. But I’m convinced that if this salad were served, there would be fewer date rapes or hazing deaths, and more spontaneous acts of goodwill. Or something like that.

Although it’s dressed in vodka, this homage is quite sophisticated and will only get you a little drunk. Each of the flavors is a good pairing for another: jicama and lime, watermelon and mint, tomatoes and vodka. Combined, they make a refreshing, clean-tasting salad that’s perfect on hot summer days.

Inebriated Watermelon Salad
2 generous luncheon salads or 4 appetizer portions

4 cups watermelon, cut into ½” cubes
3 cups jicama, cut into ½” cubes
3 smallish roma tomatoes, or 1 large beefsteak, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped (or any fresh herb; basil or tarragon would be nice)
2 tablespoons vodka
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon chili powder

Gently toss all ingredients together to combine. Serve over any pungent greens like dandelion, arugula or mache, garnished with sprouts or additional mint.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Cinnamon Rolls

These are simple and delicious.

Cinnamon Rolls
makes 15

1/3 cup water
1 cup soy or almond milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance, melted
2 eggs' worth of egg replacer (I used Ener-G)
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup evaporated cane juice or sugar
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1-1/4 ounce package yeast

1/2 cup Earth Balance, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons cinnamon

4 ounces vegan cream cheese
1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Make the Dough: Combine the first five ingredients in a large measuring cup and set aside. The mixture will be lumpy. On the dough setting of a food processor (or using a handheld mixer), pulse the dry ingredients several times. With the processor running, slowly pour the liquid mixture into the feed tube. Pulse until the dough sticks together and cleans the sides of the processor. Place in a large oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to double in size (this will take several hours depending on temperature, altitude, and so on).
Punch the dough down, allow it to rest for several minutes, and get on with the assembly.

Make the Icing: With a handheld mixer, beat the vegan cream cheese and Earth Balance until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, and continue beating for 10-12 minutes. Stir in lemon zest. The icing can be made several days in advance and refrigerated.

To Assemble: On a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a 15" x 24" rectangle, with the long side facing you. If the dough shrinks, allow it to rest for 3-5 minutes; this will let the gluten relax. Spread with the softened Earth Balance, keeping a clean 1" border at the edge closest to you.
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Scatter this mixture evenly over, keeping the 1" edge clean. Gently pressing it into the Earth Balance.
Beginning at the farthest end, tightly roll toward yourself. You should end up with a 24" long log of dough.
Get some dental floss. Sliding it under the log, pull together and cut into 1 1/2" rolls. You should have 15 rolls.
Place the rolls 1" apart in several well-greased pans. Cover, and allow to double in size, about 1 hour. At this point, the rolls can be covered loosely in plastic and refrigerated overnight.
Bake in a 325 degree oven for 15-20 minutes (5 more if refrigerated), until cinnamon rolls are lightly browned and still soft. Slather with icing while warm, and serve very soon.

Blueberry Sundae

I believe heaven is a place in which the lion and the lamb coexist in peace, the world's distresses have been healed, and ice cream never melts.

Because of the last, I tend to gobble up ice cream with incredible speed, and I'm reluctant to pair it with anything that contributes to meltiness. But I'll bend here, because this sundae is ridiculously good.

To my thinking, a proper sundae has the following components:
1 Base: cake, cookies, brownie, pastry, anything with substance and a good crumb
2 Frozen Dessert: soy or rice cream, sorbet, frozen bananas whipped in a food processor til fluffy, even a slushy granita
3 Toppings: fresh fruit, in addition to a chocolate, caramel, or fruit sauce
4 Cream: soy whipped topping, Whipped Coconut Cream, cashew cream, silken tofu cream
5 Extras: a cherry, cookie crumbs, vegan sprinkles, chopped nuts

Consider flavors that have a natural affinity for eachother (pineapple and coconut, apricots and almonds, chocolate and cherries), and combine sweet and tart elements.

In this sundae, a warm Blueberry Buckle is topped with Double Rainbow Vanilla Bean Soy Cream and slathered in Blueberry Sauce. Soyatoo Whipped Topping and a sprinkle of strusel topping finishes it off. A word about the Blueberry Buckle: This is one of the most amazing cakes you'll eat. Ever. The main ingredient is blueberries, which turn jammy and delicious in the bit of batter that holds the thing together. A thick layer of strusel topping sits on top, a perfect foil for the dense cake. It keeps well, and can be served for breakfast, tea, or dessert. Make it in summertime, when blueberries are abundant; you'll need 5 cups worth.

Veganized Blueberry Buckle
[The original version can be found here.]

1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance vegan margarine
3/4 cup evaporated cane juice or sugar
egg replacer for 1 1/2 eggs (I prefer the Ener-G for this purpose)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup almond, soy, or rice milk
5 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Streusel Topping (substitute Earth Balance for butter)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter, flour, and line a 10" round pan with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the Earth Balance and evaporated cane juice until no lumps remain. Add the egg replacer and vanilla, beating until thoroughly combined.

Add the flour mixture and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. The batter will be fairly thick. With a spatula, gently fold in blueberries. If using frozen blueberries, the batter will be very stiff and purple; this is no problem. Smooth the top and cover with Streusel Topping (above). Bake 65-75 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cover loosely with foil if the streusel begins to brown too quickly. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate, and flip back onto a cooling rack. Wait at least 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Grilled Pizza

Patriot or no, I've learned it's essentially an act of treason not to grill something on July 4th. If you can commandeer an all-veg portion of the grill (as covering one with foil just isn't as good here!), pizza is a great choice. When tossed or rolled thin, the dough stiffens on the grill, becoming marked and smoky. After a brushing of olive oil, the pizza gets flipped and covered in toppings. Grilled pizza is ideal for a casual dinner party; each person can stretch their own dough and add whatever they want. Prepare the dough and toppings in advance, and each single-serving pizza takes just over 5 minutes.

Start with any basic pizza dough. I ususally use the recipe from "The Joy of Cooking," but since I've been unlucky with yeast lately, and this afternoon ended with a run to the grocery, I can attest that any kind works.

Allow a scant 1/4 pound of dough (3-4 ounces) per pizza. For a boring, even crust, roll to 1/4"-1/3" thickness with a rolling pin. For bubbles of soft dough interspersed with crisp, thin areas, pull and stretch and toss by hand. If you make a hole, it's no problem; just don't put toppings there.

Lay the dough on the grill, and cover for a minute or so until the dough puffs a bit and becomes slightly stiff. Brush the top with olive oil.

Using tongs, two metal spatulas, or your fingers (if you're particularly hard-core), flip the dough over.

The pizza should be marked slightly. To avoid a soggy crust, brush the top with more olive oil.

Work fast! Add whatever toppings you like. Left to right, from top: Tomato Sauce, Follow Your Heart Mozzarella, Fresh Spinach, Sauteed Mushrooms, Sausage-Herbed Seitan, halved Black Olives, Red Onion, halved Grape Tomatoes tossed with Olive Oil and Basil, Artichoke Hearts in Balsamic, and Garlic-Infused Olive Oil.
Cover and cook another 1-2 minutes, or until the thicker edges of the pizza are no longer doughy.

Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and serve.