Wednesday, April 30, 2008

the best vegan brownies. i swear.

As much as I love cupcakes, pies, cookies, and other delicious confections, when it comes to sweets I am completely infatuated with brownies. They are one of the few desserts that have a high chance of completely vanishing within twenty-four hours after baking them. Being a complete chocoholic, they just always seem to hit the spot.

When I was vegan a couple of years ago, I made it my goal to create desserts that tasted the same (if not sometimes better) than their non-vegan counterparts. I was constantly in the kitchen experimenting, discovering new methods, and trying out dozens of egg/dairy-free recipes from a variety of sources. For some reason, though, I could never find a brownie recipe that really had the chewiness and fudginess of the traditional one. That is until I found this one, which has never failed to produce a sinfully rich and chewy brownie. Enjoy.

The Best Vegan Brownies Ever


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 11 x 17" or 9 x 13" pan.
Boil water and 1/2 cup of the flour in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches the consistency of a gluey paste. Remove from heat and let cool.
Mix sugars, salt, vanilla, cocoa and oil. Then add the rest of the flour-water mixture and mix well. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour and baking powder, mix well, and then stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (if you're using them). The end mixture will be rather thick.
Spread the mixture into your baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. These are much better when completely cooled.

everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pizza.

To tell you the truth, I never really liked pizza. I remember every one of my friends as a kid labeling pizza as their number one favorite food (right before cereal and ice cream), but I just never really understood the appeal. I didn't eat meat, hated melted cheese, and wasn't the biggest fan of vegetables, so it never really struck my interest. It wasn't until I decided to finally start making it myself, my way, that I finally understood just how great it could be. There is definitely a major difference between homemade and take-out pizza: it just can't compare. The process of kneading the dough, rolling it out, covering it in delicious items, and then having the whole house filled with the smell of fresh-baked pizza- it's just something I absolutely adore.

Another great thing about pizza is that it is one of those foods that is great to make for dinner when you have food that is about to go bad and you have no idea what to do with it. I tend to just clean out the vegetable and dairy drawer and just go to town. Even veggies that you don't usually think of as "pizza-friendly" are usually surprisingly delicious (recently my favorites include blanched broccoli and thinly sliced potatoes). So this afternoon I decided to clean out the fridge and make pizza for lunch. And let me tell you, it was good.

Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Pizza


For the dough (recipe from "Vegan Planet")
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar or natural sweetener
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for spreading

For the pizza
This is all optional and to your own taste but my favorites include:
Half a package of chopped tempeh (I love fakin' bacon)
A handful of chopped cherry tomatoes
A whole lot of chopped garlic
As much cheese as you'd like (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, etc.)
A big handful of blanched baby spinach
A couple chopped yellow or red peppers
A small head of chopped, blanched broccoli
Two small very thinly-sliced red or russet potatoes
Any other kind of real or vegetarian meat that appeals to you
Fresh herbs (basil and rosemary are wonderful)
Some marinara sauce (jarred, canned, or homemade)


For the dough- Place the yeast in a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the water and stir to dissolve. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture, olive oil, and the remaining 1/2 cup of water as necessary to make the dough hold together. Knead the dough (with a little more flour if necessary) until smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a lightly-oiled bowl. Spread a little more olive oil on top of the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Cover your baking sheet or pizza pan with a bit of ground black pepper and cornmeal (this is not required, but it tastes delicious in the end). Roll the dough out on a lightly-floured surface until desired thickness is acheived. Transfer the dough to your pan and then cover the surface with your marinara sauce- be sure not to spread the sauce too thickly or it will make your crust soggy. Cover your dough in cheese and the rest of your toppings. Drizzle the top with a little bit of olive oil, some course salt, some ground pepper, and a little parmesan if you'd like.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes- shorter if you want a softer crust, longer if you want a crispy one. Let cool for a few minutes then enjoy!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A light lunch

Is it tacky to make 2 consecutive posts? Oh well. I just wanted to let you all know that it's not all about huge loaves of white bread, crumbly cakes, or pastas with sausage.

This afternoon for lunch, I snacked on a tasty plate of lightly sauteed broccoli seasoned with black pepper, a handful of garlic, (duh!) and a tiny splash of soy sauce. Today I made white jasmine rice, though I have to admit- even though I've always loathed brown rice, the Trader Joe's brown jasmine rice has really been growing on me. I think it's just that short-grain rice tends to have a texture I don't like, and it's even worse when eating brown rice.



Add a wee pat of butter to your rice (don't laugh, I like it that way), a wedge of lemon for flavor. I like a light lunch, most days. And listen- I could eat broccoli in damn near anything. I love it steamed (the only reason I didn't steam it today is that I was baking bread in my sauce pot that connects to my steam basket, haha), sauteed, roasted, you name it. Overeating green vegetables is a vice I will never complain about.

A mini loaf

For Christmas last year, I received a breadmaker from my mother. Now, I live in a pretty cramped two-bedroom apartment with my husband and toddler, so while I appreciated the sentiment (kitchen gadgets!), my cupboard space would not cooperate. For the first time I can recall, I RETURNED A CHRISTMAS GIFT (Normally, I'd be much too lazy to bother, but I had to get rid of the damn thing- I literally had nowhere to put it!) But, despite the fact that I chose not to keep it, the inspiration remained. I decided to bake some bread from scratch for the first time. I used a recipe for baguettes that I found online and I was mildly impressed, but not overwhelmed. The loaves were dense, and not very chewy. My next attempt, inspired by the flickr photo stream of Stephanie Congdon-Barnes, I baked a batch of pita bread. It came out better, but I managed to burn my hand pretty bad and the pitas didn't puff up into the pockets I'd hoped for. When my friend Claire Evans insisted to me that the No Knead recipe was the bee's knees, I believed her, but was too lazy to give it a try. Eventually, she convinced me, and I remain blown away. BELIEVE THE HYPE, PEOPLE. NO KNEAD BREAD IS THE BOMB.

After baking loaf after loaf of No Knead bread, tweaking the instructions to suit my needs- I ended up slightly burnt out on bread. The problem? If I have a huge-ass loaf of bread in front of me, I'm going to eat it. That's all there is to it! Bread with honey (haha!), bread with olive oil and sea salt, bread with butter, bread with hummus- seriously dudes, I can't stop eating bread. The only problem is that my ASS IS BALLOONING WITH EVERY LOAF LIKE SO MUCH RISING DOUGH. The solution? A no-knead mini-loaf! Here is my adaptation of the original NY Times recipe, tailored to fit the needs of the individual who finds themself unable to resist a warm loaf of fresh bread.


But first, few notes on the original recipe:
A lot of people are dismayed to realize that the recipe calls for a dutch oven or other kind of baking apparatus to keep the bread moist while the crust forms. It's not a big deal, dudes! I use my large stainless steel stockpot that happens to be oven-safe. If you know that your pots and pans are oven-safe, go for it! Or use a casserole dish. You don't need a Le Creuset cast iron dutch oven to make this loaf. Even better news? For the mini-loaf, I just used a regular-sized pot from my stainless steel set. I happen to know that my set is oven-safe, but if you're not sure, just use a casserole dish or something. A tight-fitting lid is key.

The original recipe calls for a generous dusting of corn meal, wheat bran, or flour. The first time I made this bread, I dusted the whole loaf in cornmeal- which was GREAT for keeping it from sticking to the pot, the board you use to let it rise, or the cloth you cover it with, BUT it makes the whole damn loaf taste like corn. I've switched to dusting with plain flour only, but sprinkling the bottom of the pan I cook it in with cornmeal to give it that extra crunch and that sort of pizza dough type flavor on the bottom, without being overwhelming.

The original recipe asks you to let the dough rise on a flour or cornmeal dusted cloth. That's cool if you like SCRAPING OLD STICKY DOUGH OFF OF YOUR CLOTH, but I find that to be a pain in the ass. I've been letting it sit on wax paper, though parchment paper would probably work better, I just don't have any.


Okay that's it- here's the recipe as I made it today. I just halved the original recipe, haha!

1.5 cups of flour (Use bread flour! I think it makes a difference. It might be all in my head, but I don't care.)
A little less than 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt (Eyeball it, guys- it's not a huge deal. Bread isn't life or death when it comes to measurements, or so Martha tells me.)
1/8 of a teaspoon of instant yeast (Okay, raise your hand if you have a 1/8 tsp. measuring spoon. I don't. I just filled my 1/4 tsp. up, then I knocked about half the yeast out.)
3/4 cup water, or a few drops more.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl using a whisk, then add water and stir until combined. The dough should be shaggy and sticky. You can transfer into an oiled bowl, but honestly I don't think it makes much of a difference. Cover tightly with plastic and let it sit for at least 15 hours. I usually let mine sit for about 20 hours, I think it works best that way. My apartment is on the chilly side, though- if it were warmer, I might let it go for a slightly shorter time. I try to plan it so that my bread goes into the oven about 24 hrs after I make the dough, that way I don't forget when to put it in.
After the first rise (15-20-some hours), scrape the dough out onto a heavily floured surface (wax paper! with flour on it!). Make sure you have flour all over your hands because it's going to be sticky. Flop the dough over onto itself once or twice, don't over-handle it. It doesn't need to look all perfect. Just let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then, quickly form the dough into a ball (folding the corners into the middle works well) and set it seam-side down onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper, or a heavily floured cloth. Cover with a non-terrycloth towel and let it sit for another 2 hours.
Half an hour before the bread goes in the oven, preheat at 450˚f with your baking pan in the oven. After the half hour is up, take out your pan, sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal, and dump the dough in, seam-side up. Cover and return to the oven. Bake 20 minutes covered, 20 minutes uncovered, give or take a few at the end depending on how brown you want your crust.


That's it! This mini-recipe will yield a small loaf of crusty white bread, suitable for dipping in homemade soups, drenching in half-melted butter, or whatever else you like to do with your bread. It's a nice, small amount and if you end up eating half the damn loaf, you don't have to feel like a pig about it. Rock and roll!

spicy crumb cake.

Lately I have been waking up in the morning wanting something sweet right out of bed. Perhaps it is because I am used to Alice and I frequently walking to Stumptown early in the day for a chocolate chip cookie and a cup of coffee, or maybe it is due to the fact that desserts have been sneaking into my dreams at night. All I know is that I think about baking something before I even think about breakfast.

This morning I woke up with the craving for something spicy and sweet. I decided to go for a search through one of my favorite estate sale finds: a Better Homes and Gardens binder cookbook that is stuffed to the brim with the previous owners handwritten and cut-out recipes from the 1930's. I came across a "Cut Out and Save" recipe from an unknown source for Spicy Crumb Cake, which sounded just perfect. So I cleared a spot in my messy kitchen and set to work on this easy recipe.

It turned out delicious, even in my broken sixties oven that needs to be replaced. The strong mixture of nutmeg and brown sugar was just what I wanted.

Spicy Crumb Cake: Adapted from an unknown source


2 cups brown sugar (not packed)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine (I used Earth Balance, which worked just dandy)
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 beaten egg
2/3 cup buttermilk or sour milk (just mix 1 teaspoon of white or apple cider vinegar into regular or even soy milk)
1 teaspoon baking soda


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9" round baking pan.
In a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour, butter or margarine, nutmeg and cinnamon with your fingers or with two knives until the whole mixture is crumbly, not lumpy. Put aside 1/2 cup of this mixture for the top of the cake.
To the rest add the egg, buttermilk or sour milk and baking soda. Pour batter (it will be a bit thick) into baking pan, sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, April 28, 2008

an introduction & some pear butter cake.

And so here we are. The idea of starting a food blog has crossed my mind many times, but I have, for one reason or another, never managed to get around to doing it. So when my good friend Alice, a food photographer and fellow foodie, had the idea of doing one together, I finally decided to just go for it.

There are very few things in life that I can go on and on about more than my love of food. I was raised in an Italian household where food was always a huge deal when it came to being together as a family. There were usually always weekly get-togethers with all of the family with ingredients from the local Italian market and yes, a whole lotta pasta. After I became vegetarian at age eight (following the death of my rabbit), my grandmother would create all the classic Italian dishes with foods like homemade squash meatballs and faux ham. Oh, how I appreciated her openness for experimentation.

Of all the members of my family, my grandmother and I were the sugar addicts. A meal was not a meal if it was not followed up with dessert. She was not much of a baker besides putting together canolis and her famous icebox cake (which I hope to share someday), but her and I would always make sure to pick up a baked good or a carton of ice cream to enjoy at anytime of the day. If only she were still around today- I am sure she would be the first to appreciate the ever-abundant amount of sweets that are always being baked in my kitchen.

So I guess that is all to say for an introduction, at least for tonight. All you really need to know is that I bake a lot. And my sweet tooth has continued to this day. I have to decided to start this weblog with a recipe I made a few weeks ago. It comes from one of my favorite cookbooks (one I posted about a couple of months ago): the fabulous Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros. Pear Butter Cake- can you get much better than that?

pear butter cake.

Pear Butter Cake: from Apples for Jam


1/2 lb. plus 5 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for the top
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tsp. finely grated lemon rind
A good pinch of ground cardamom
A large pinch of nutmeg
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup half-and-half
4 small ripe pears


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9 1/2" springform cake pan.
Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the vanilla, lemon rind, cardmom, and nutmeg, and then add the eggs one by one, beating well after each one. Add the sifted flour and baking powder alternately with the half-and-half, and mix until you have a smooth batter.
Scrape out every drop into the cake pan. You don't need to be particular about leveling the surface because it will spread evenly during the baking. Bake for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel, quarter, and core the pears. Take the cake from the oven and quickly scatter the pears over the top. Sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Return to the oven and bake for another 45 minutes or so, until the pears are lovely and golden in places, the cake is crusty, and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean.
Cool slightly before cutting and serving warm or at room temperature. Keep the cake covered tightly with aluminum foil so that it doesn't harden and you can then warm it through to serve.

Serves 10 to 12.

A first!

Woo hoo, an introduction! Summer and I started this food blog. Look forward to daily (actually, between the two of us, it'll probably end up being a few times a day) posts with recipes, photographs, links to stuff we like, and more. But hey, on to the good stuff!

Let me preface this by saying that my husband Jason does most of the cooking in our house. He has a culinary degree, and most of the fancy food stuff I know, I learned from him. He's always offering me helpful advice, like my favorite answer to the often-asked question, "How long should I cook ____?" "'Til it's done!" Thanks, dude.

Anyway, tonight for dinner we had what he called "Junk Pasta," a collection of tasty ingredients, somewhat dumped together to create a fairly delicious end result. I have to admit, my husband and I have slightly different ideas about Italian food. With all his restaurant experience, he doesn't have much of an Italian background, whereas the only "real" restaurant I've ever worked in was an Italian place. Sure, I washed dishes, but they let me toss some crap together on the line a few times! Anyway, I like my garlic in massive portions, and lightly browned in oil- he prefers a lighter touch. I like lots of cracked black pepper and chili flakes, he likes to taste the sweetness of the tomatoes. So, with that in mind, I will post the recipe as he made it, and then add my own 'corrections' at the end.





Junk Pasta!

You'll need:

A big handful of chopped garlic (5 cloves? whatever you like. i like a LOT of garlic.)
Half a large red onion, diced
About a cereal bowl full of plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 can artichoke hearts
A couple of italian sausages (get spicy ones!)
A big handful of chopped fresh basil
Splash of white wine
Some fresh mozzarella

Okay, it's pretty straightforward after that! Fry up those sausages with some olive oil in a good-sized saute pan until golden brown, then take them out and let them hang out on a cutting board for a minute while you get the rest of the stuff going. Throw in some more oil, your garlic and onions, let them get nice and glassy, then a splash of white wine. Toss in your lemon zest, your artichokes, tomatoes, basil. Throw the sausage back in. Let it hang out and get saucy for awhile. Salt & pepper to taste.

For plating, put a handful of fresh spinach on the plate (if you want) for texture. Top with noodles of your choice, sauce, some more fresh basil, and maybe a squeeze of lemon. We topped it with itty bitty mozzarella balls, too.

That's pretty much it. I know, a pasta recipe is kind of a no-brainer, right? Now- for the minor corrections. My husband likes to pop whole cherry tomatoes into his mouth, and I really only like tomatoes IN stuff- you know? So, for this dish, I'd chop the tomatoes. I'd also dice up the artichoke hearts a little finer, just so everything was the same size. Also, we both agreed that it would have been extra delicious if we'd remembered to squeeze some lemon juice onto the fresh spinach before we topped it with the pasta. And you know, some butter and parmesan probably would have helped, too- haha! (But we are trying to be healthier.) Also, some olives! Why not?

Overall, I wouldn't call this my FAVORITE PASTA DISH OF ALL TIME, but it was light, filling, and did the trick on a warm spring evening.