Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Veg Baker, J.D. Honor!

I am very excited to announce that I just learned that Veg Baker, J.D. was just listed as one of the top blogs to check out by Dog Health Problems and it is currently the featured blog! Thank you, I'm honored!

I checked out their website, and they have a lot of great information. I am including them in my links, but their main page is here: I hope you'll check them out! Thank you again; it's truly a privilege!

Sick Day Solution

I am home from work today, sick with a freak cold. Well, I think it's a cold, but one of my colleagues diagnosed me, probably more accurately, with a case of hubris. Greg often gives me grief for having a "weak constitution," but frankly, I think that is patently false. Sure, my stomach felt like it was going to explode during the bar exam, but heck, that's not sickness, just a sign I care, right? And yes, I can't read in cars or trains because I apparently never outgrew motion sickness.

But consider these facts: I haven't had a cold in over two years. This summer, after continuous contact with a co-worker who ended up having swine flu, I didn't even get a sniffle. Heck, I've never even gotten a flu shot, and whenever I've worked in offices where everyone but me got a flu shot, everyone got sick - except for me.

So, um, after rereading that last paragraph, yes, the karma police definitely decided my number was up, and they are giving it to me good. And they are giving it to me with an extra dose of ugh, because Greg is out of town for business, which means I can't even get any of that awesome husband pampering which he rocks out when I'm sick. I am pleased to report, though, that I have two fluffy RNs who have decided the best way to care for Mommy is with snuggling. I can get behind that.

As I'm laying in bed, I can't help but daydream about a snack that would make me feel better, and then the answer became clear: the healing power of a warm loaf of freshly baked bread. Of course, this loaf of bread is only going to be a daydream until I feel better, but I'm convinced the next time someone is sick that I can cure what ails them with some fresh bread, and maybe some homemade soup for dipping the bread.

I found the base for this recipe at Spoof (, and it definitely supplied me with what I needed to mess around and make me happy. The one big thing you're probably wondering about? Agave nectar. This has popped up in some of my recipes, and I'm happy to shout its praises. In the vegan community, agave nectar is considered a wonderful replacement for honey; it has the same sweetness as honey, but since it is plant-sourced, you can completely avoid the arguments over whether honey is okay for vegans to eat. In addition, though, agave nectar is an excellent sweetener to use for diabetics. For reasons I don't quite understand, agave nectar does not cause blood sugar to spike, which is an obvious concern for diabetics. In addition, since it comes from a natural source, you don't have to worry about any potential chemical issues from sugar replacements that are created in factories and labs. You can keep it in the pantry so it's ready to use, and I go to it again and again. If you give it a shot, leave me a comment and let me know if you like it!

"Honey" Whole Wheat Bread
Yields: one loaf

2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. warm water (should feel warmish hot when you touch it, but you should be able to bear touching it for 10 seconds without scalding yourself)
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. flour
1/4 c. agave nectar
1/4 c. vegetable, corn, or canola oil
1/4 c. soy milk
1/4 c. ground flax seeds

1) Proof the yeast: mix the yeast, sugar, and water together and let sit for 10 minutes.
2) In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Once the yeast is proofed, mix it in until mostly combined (will likely be very tacky).
3) On a floured surface, knead the ingredients 5-7 minutes. The mixture will feel smooth but the dough will resist a bit when you poke it. That's how you know it's done. At any rate, I wouldn't knead the dough for more than 7 minutes.
4) Place the dough in an greased (I spray with cooking spray) bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise for an hour. The dough should roughly double in size.
5) After an hour, knead the dough once or twice, then placed in a greased (again, I use cooking spray) loaf pan, spreading the dough into a loaf in the pan. Cover again and let rise for about an hour.
6) Bake for 40-60 minutes in a 350 degree oven. You will know the bread is ready because if you "knock" the middle of it, it will sound hollow (be careful - the bread is HOT).
7) Remove from pan and EAT! Cut with a serrated knife, otherwise the bread will fall apart. Lacking a decent knife? Then let it cool all the way and then cut it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two Posts in One Day for Charity

I've decided to go crazy and post two entries today (this is post number two, so please make sure you read my post on pumpkin bread, which immediately follows!).

I thought two posts was appropriate because this entry does not have a recipe that follows. I decided to buck my rules, though, because this second post is for a good cause: Misericordia.

If you love to bake, are looking for a different way to give back this holiday season, and you live in the Chicago area, please consider volunteering at Misericordia's Hearts and Flour Bakery.

Misericordia is a great organization that runs an incredible number of programs to help developmentally disabled individuals of all ages and abilities. One way they do so is through the Hearts and Flour Bakery, which produces amazing goodies, baked by both volunteers and Misericordia beneficiaries, sold at Chicago area Farmers' Markets. You may have tasted their goodies and been so preoccupied with the yumminess you were eating, you didn't even know you were supporting a good cause!

Hearts and Flour is very busy during the holidays, and they are currently looking for volunteers who can come (and you don't even have to make a continuous commitment) to come volunteer in a three-hour shift during 9AM-9PM, with flexible days and times. If you are interested, please contact them with more information. I am thinking about doing it, and I hope you will consider it, too!

General information on the bakery is here:
Information on volunteering opportunities (including with the bakery; scroll down to "Holiday Bakery") are here:

Pumpkin Puree = Thoughtful Present

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! And to everyone who braved Black Friday, I hope you've recovered, too!

Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday have come and gone, many people are making two realizations. One, they have many presents to get without much time to do it. Two, they have random leftover canned pumpkin or pumpkin puree and they have no clue what to do with it.

Why not kill two birds with one stone and make pumpkin bread as a holiday gift? I made pumpkin bread for the first time a few years ago based on a Greg request. I poked around on the internet, found a winner recipe on (which I promptly futzed around with), and I've faithfully made it every year since. Pumpkin bread is something that is always appreciated, very tasty and appropriate with the season, and for some reason, it seems to be overlooked as a pastry item that people bake. I love whipping up this stuff; you can make it in big loaves or lots of little loaves, and you can mix in all kinds of things, like chocolate, raisins, coconut, or nuts, to make it your own, or just leave it as is. It also freezes like a dream and is super easy to ship.

One problem with my old recipe, though - although dairy-free because I use applesauce (which makes it very low fat, too!), my recipe had eggs. I had some thoughts for veganizing the recipe, and then I ran across the pumpkin muffin recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance. I borrowed some tips from that recipe, combined them with the old recipe, and bam - a new vegan treat that still is low in fat!

Pumpkin Bread
Yields: 1 regular loaf

1 1/4 c. raw sugar
1 c. canned or pureed pumpkin
1/2 c. soy milk
1/2 c. applesauce
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 3/4 c. flour (all-purpose or whole wheat or a mixture)
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. allspice

1) Combine sugar, pumpkin, soy milk, applesauce, and molasses. Let sit for about a minute so sugar crystals dissolve.
2) Slowly add remaining ingredients until batter just comes together.
3) If desired, stir in mix-ins: chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, dried fruit, flaxseed, or coconut would be great.
4) Pour batter into a greased loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, and then turn down temperature and bake an additional 25 minutes at 375 degrees.
5) Cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove loaf from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ask VBJD: What Are You Eating For Thanksgiving (The Sweet Answer)

Ask Veg Baker, J.D., The Thanksgiving Special, Continues!

As I mentioned in my last post, I am also bringing a tray of cookies. It's no real secret that I love to share desserts, but there is another practical reason for bringing dessert to a holiday or potluck dinner - when you've arrived, you're all done! No need to reheat, take up space in the kitchen, or worry that your dish is getting cold or messed up. You can deliver the final product, confident in its taste and presentation.

This year, I will be bringing three cookies on my tray: the chocolate caramel bars and sparkled ginger cookies, which I've previously written about, and a new cookie from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar: carrot cake cookies.

Why carrot cake cookies? A couple of reasons, actually. First, I love bringing cakes and cupcakes to parties, but sometimes, it's just not practical. When you've got a hankering for cake but the inability to deliver, I think these cookies are a good compromise.

These cookies are also great because, when fall rolls around, I feel like there are certain flavors I crave, including squash, pumpkins, apples, and root vegetables. I think carrot cake is perfect at this time of year because it incorporates carrots with all of the favorite Thanksgiving spices. It truly brings together the best of the season. The cookies are convenient because you get all of those flavors in an easy portable version.

Finally, I've also got a selfish motive. Greg's favorite cake is carrot cake, but he rarely eats it because he hates cream cheese frosting, which is the typical topping on his beloved slice. I think his distaste for cream cheese frosting makes him a weirdo, even if he's a cute weirdo. :) That's neither here nor there, though, because cream cheese frosting is decidedly not vegan, and I haven't come up with a vegan frosting yet. What's a girl to do? Bring in the cookies!

The original recipe called for a lemon glaze frosting. I'm sure that's probably delicious and all, but I didn't make it, because I didn't think the cookies needed it. In addition, these cookies have the added bonus of tasting better when they've cooled. That's at least what my official cookie tester Greg told me, and I think there's something to that. When the cookies came straight out of the oven, he said they were good and had one. The next morning, he ate four more and in between mouthfuls said he thought they were irresistible at their "equilibrium" state. That said, if you're looking for a tasty dessert that doesn't need reheating, these cookies have mass appeal.

Happy cooking and eating everyone, and most importantly, Happy Thanksgiving!

Carrot Cake Cookies (adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar)
Yields: 3 dozen cookies

1/3 c. soy milk
1 Tbsp. ground flaxseeds
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. orange zest
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. shredded or grated carrots (if you have a food processor or stand mixed attachment, it makes this a cinch! Otherwise, a hand grater will work)
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 - 1 3/4 c. raisins (depends on your raisin preference; go as heavy or light as you like)

1) Combine soymilk, flaxseeds, oil, sugars, zest, and vanilla until well combined.
2) Gradually add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and until just combined.
3) Mix in carrots, coconut and raisins.
4) Using an ice cream scoop or two spoons (two spoons are probably best; the dough is sticky and sometimes the scoop doesn't cooperate), scoop dough into little balls by the tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper.
5) Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 14-16 minutes. Remove from oven and rest on baking sheet for 10 minutes before cooling on cooling racks completely.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ask VBJD: What Are You Eating for Thanksgiving? (The Savory Answer)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I absolutely love the holiday season; heck, Greg and I got married ten days before Christmas, so I must love the season! There is just a magical feeling in the air, and I always reflect on how grateful I am for all of the wonderful people in my life.

One question I get every year is: what am I making for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Truth be told, I think this is less of a vegetarian question and more of a question from curious friends and family who know I love to cook and to bake, and they're just wondering what I'll be whipping up. And because they know I can talk about food endlessly, I'm happy to oblige!

This year for Thanksgiving, Greg and I will be bringing Apple Cider Green Beans and a cookie plate to Thanksgiving dinner. As a result, I've decided to split up the answer into two days so I can talk about both of the recipes.

Apple Cider Green Beans is an adaption of a recipe my mom saw on 30 Minute Meals about five years ago. I am guessing some of my readers are Rachael Ray fans, while others are groaning, so I will do cowardly thing and bow out of the discussion. What I will say, though, is that regardless of whatever you think of Ms. Ray, I have often turned to her recipes, particularly for party situations, because they aren't fussy and often can be prepared ahead of time easily, and the final results have always come out a hit.

Apple Cider Green Beans is no exception. Basically this dish has two components: the green beans and the apple cider onion topping, and both are a snap. Basically, you buy frozen green beans and just heat them right before serving in the microwave, and you can make the apple onion mixture a day ahead of time and just easily reheat on the stove or, if you must, in the microwave (a bonus I find when I go to other houses, since extra oven space tends to be a novelty at this time of year). Mix together and serve, and you're all set. This recipe also easily doubles, triples, quadruples; you basically can't go wrong.

Also important, though, is that the final product is just delicious. The apple taste just fits right in with the season, but it's not too sweet, and the green beans give the perfect crunch. It's also not laden with fat, so it's a relatively guilt-free meal. If you're still scrambling around for a great side dish for Thursday, please consider putting this on the list!

Apple Cider Green Beans (adapted from Rachael Ray)
Yields: 4 servings

1-2 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 - 2 1/2 c. apple cider or apple juice
1 lb. bag frozen green beans

1) Heat the olive oil over medium high heat (you can cut back on the fat by spraying the pan first with nonstick spray and then adding 1 tsp. of oil). Saute the onion until caramelized.
2) Pour in the apple cider or juice; reduce until there is a thick, syrupy liquid, stirring frequently. This can take from 20-30 minutes. (If you are making ahead, store in a container in the fridge at this point. Reheat right before serving over medium heat in a saucepan or in the microwave. If using the microwave, check every 30 seconds a stir frequently).
3) Cook green beans in the microwave according to package directions.
4) Mix apple cider onion and green beans together; serve.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Butternut Squash: It Cures What Ails Ya (Whatever That May Be)

We interrupt this spree of vegan holiday baking to kill two birds with one stone. Well, maybe not the best metaphor for a vegan website, but I'll run with it nonetheless.

Greg was a bit under weather this week. Fortunately, not H1N1 or other seasonal flu under weather, but more like day-long stomach discomfort that knocked him out. As the day went on and Greg was feeling better, I realized fairly quickly that he would need to eat something that was "real food" without sending his stomach back into a downward spiral.

I poked around the kitchen and found another trusty butternut squash. Yes, I've been buying these up at probably too great a clip, but I just can't say no 1) to tasty seasonal food and 2) a sale. I was wondering if I could turn this bulbous beast into a tasty soup, and after some poking around, I found a recipe from Weight Watchers for curried butternut soup, so I gave it a shot.

After making this soup, I think this is a new favorite that will be in the rotation. First, for those that are a little unsure of curry, let me say that you can't actually taste curry in the final product, and the soup doesn't get spicy when you add it. Instead, the toasted curry powder adds a depth of flavor that gives the soup body, but you can't put your finger on what that ingredient is, so I would definitely recommend you try it. Second, once you prep the vegetables, this soup just cooks itself. That is definitely a big thumbs up here; anything that tends to itself is a friend of mine. Finally, you can easily make this ahead of time and reheat it. Greg and I had some of the leftovers later, and it was still delicious.

And, I am pleased to report that the soup did the trick for curing Greg, on many levels. While the vegetables were roasting, Greg perked up at the smell. I brought him the soup, and he sat up and slurped it down, and then had seconds! He said it was delicious and felt comforted, which are all important things.

On a final note, maybe what "ails you" isn't sickness, but figuring out what to bring for Thanksgiving. This dish would be great. It is easy to make ahead of time and can either stay warm in a slow cooker or be quickly reheated on the stove. It's festive for the season and easy to handle, either if you're the host or bringing a dish along. Two thumbs up from our house!

Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Weight Watchers)
Yields: 12 servings (1 serving = 3/4 cup)

One butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and cubed
One medium onion, peeled and chopped into large pieces
32 ounces vegetable stock (one of the cardboard boxes from the store)
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
Salt and pepper

1) Put squash and onion in a roasting pan. Cover with the vegetable stock. Place in preheated 425 degree oven for one hour, stirring occasionally. (If some of the vegetables brown, don't worry.).
2) Remove vegetables from oven and puree. If you are using an immersion blender, cool for about five minutes and then puree until smooth. If you are using a regular blender or a food processor, cool for about 15 minutes so you don't hurt yourself with ridiculously hot vegetables and puree in batches.
3) Toast the curry powder in a nonstick pan on the stove at medium high heat for about two minutes. Stir continuously so the powder doesn't burn.
4) Mix the curry powder and a couple cracks of salt and pepper into soup.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Doin' It Up Old School...With A Vegan Twist

I love to bake all kinds of things, but I still maintain that the best recipes are the old classics. I've noticed time and again that whenever I pull a recipe from an old cookbook that was sold as a local fundraiser where I grew up, or if I use an old family recipe (either my family's or a friend's!), those are always the foods that are favorites. I'm not sure if these foods just bring back good memories for people, or if the recipes are just classics that have been perfected over the generations, but I know better than to question a good thing.

One of my absolute favorite treats as a kid was straight out of my elementary school cookbook: chocolate caramel brownies. My mom would make these, and I would just melt. These brownies are just ridiculously rich and intense, with sweetness of chocolate mixing in with the salty stickiness of the caramel. Very yummy indeed! They are great because they are a hit with kids, but because they are so decadent, they also pass as a very "adult" dessert as well. What is also great about this recipe is that it took German chocolate cake mix and jazzed it up, so if you don't normally keep baking ingredients in your home but you want to bake something special, a box of cake mix will do the trick.

Let me tell you though, the recipe violates just about every rule of vegan baking that there is. First, cake mix - not only do you find dairy and egg products, but healthywise, these are the worst offenders of partially hydrogenated yuck you can buy. Second, evaporated milk is critical in this recipe. And finally, the caramels. Besides having milk in them, they are just annoying to handle, even if they are delicious in the final product. The original recipe calls you to buy a bag of caramels and individually unwrap each of the 50 caramels. Let me tell you, I'm usually fairly bitter by the time I'm done with that process, and I'd rather just eat the 50 caramels than keep baking.

Fortunately, all of these fixes are pretty easy! I've previously extolled the virtues of Cherrybrook Kitchens ( vegan cake mixes, and it is just as delicious here, too. Just pick up a box of chocolate cake mix, and you're all set. Evaporated milk? No problem. Just take the amount of milk you need and double it, swapping in soy milk. Then, heat up the milk over medium low heat; the soy milk will get hot, but don't let it boil. Just stir occasionally, and the milk will reduce. Once reduced by half, you have evaporated milk.

And the caramel? That ended up being the best surprise of all. Not only is this stuff delicious in this recipe, but it's actually meant to be a topping for ice cream. The batch whips up really quickly, and the final product has an intense, almost nutty flavor. Two thumbs way up, and a special thank you to for posting the recipe! I've put it below.

Chocolate Caramel Brownies
Yields: 20-24 brownies

2/3 c. soy milk (directions in recipe for turning it into evaporated milk)
Caramel Sauce (recipe follows at end)
1 box vegan chocolate cake mix
3/4 c. non-dairy butter substitute, melted (like Earth's Balance)
1 c. vegan chocolate chips (like Ghirardelli)

1) Prepare evaporated milk. Heat soy milk over medium low heat, occasionally stirring to keep from boiling. After approximately 10-15 minutes, the milk should have reduced by half (1/3 c.). Remove from heat.
2) At the same time, prepare caramel sauce (recipe at the end).
3) Mix together (by hand) the evaporated soy milk, the cake mix, and the melted butter substitute. The mixture will look like brownies.
4) Pat 2/3 of the dough into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake the mixture for 8 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
5) Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Add the caramel sauce; you will not need all of it, just add until the caramel covers the top. (Put the rest in the fridge for ice cream!)
6) Take the remaining dough and crumble over the top of the caramel, pushing the dough into the caramel if need be.
7) Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. If you are having trouble removing the brownies from the pan or if you used too much caramel, do not worry. Simply leave the cut brownies in the pan, cover, and put the brownies in the fridge until cold. The caramel will firm up, and then you'll have an easier time removing them.

Caramel Sauce
Yields: 2-3 cups sauce

1/2 c. non-dairy butter substitute (like Earth's Balance)
2 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. soy milk, divided
2 Tbsp. arrowroot.

1) Mix 1/4 c. soy milk and the arrowroot together; put aside.
2) Melt the remaining ingredients in a saucepan, over medium to medium high heat, stirring frequently. Once melted, the mixture should boil (or will shortly begin to boil). Boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
3) Immediately remove the mixture from the heat and add the soymilk/arrowroot mixture. Stir until smooth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vegetarianism: Sticking To Your Ribs Since Day One

People have often asked me how vegetarians and vegans stay full. This isn't as strange of a question as it sounds; even the words vegetarian and vegan conjure up images of youthful, glowing men and women flocking through a field, picking and joyously eating fruits and veggies for sustenance.

Okay, maybe I took the image a little far, but you get my drift. Sometimes as I'm excitedly describing how I finally made a tasty quinoa pilaf after many failed attempts or how Greg and I decided we love the Mediterranean Lentil Salad from Moosewood, but we had to pull back on the dressing to make it work, I can see it in their eyes: how aren't you starving? I think what really surprises people is when I talk about some of the other meals Greg and I have, including one of Greg's all time faves: meatloaf. Excuse me, did I say meatloaf? I meant neatloaf.

Oh dear, we've crossed the threshold, into creating vegan replacements, with cutesy takes on the original name! But I assure you, this mock meatloaf is delish. I served it up a couple years ago for a dinner party and it was a hit, and Greg and I love to eat this when the weather is cold outside. It has the mouthfeel and satisfying taste of the original; trust me, I'm the original love to eat until I explode kind of person. At the same time, this recipe is vegan, and even if you're not vegan, it's great because it is much lower in calories than the original and is cholesterol free - something all of us can get behind.

This recipe was adapted from Mama's Mock Meatloaf at They recommend using Gimme Lean Beef for the hamburger replacement; although it has the texture of ground meat, I'm actually not a huge fan of the flavor. Instead, I recommend Lightlife's Smart Ground Original; the final result may be a little more crumbly, but the flavor is fantastic. Regardless with what you decide, all of these items can be found in the refrigerated "mock meats" section in the grocery store, which is usually by the produce.

This recipe is also great for a make-ahead meal; simply put the loaf together the night before, put it in the pan, cover with saran wrap, and it can stay in the fridge. You can also make the coating the night before, too; just put it in a separate container. The next day, just bake according to the directions below.

Neatloaf (adapted from Mama's Mock Meatloaf)
Yields: 6 servings

Loaf ingredients:
1 medium onion dicde
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 tsp. vegetable oil or spray
24 oz. (approximately) of burger substitute (that's two packages of Smart Ground)
1/4 c. oats
2 slices vegan bread, toasted and crumbled
3 Tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. pepper

Coating ingredients:
1/2 c. ketchup
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. nutmeg

1) Saute the onion and green pepper in the oil or spray over medium heat until soft. Combine in a bowl with the ground beef alternative, oatmeas, bread, ketchup, garlic salt, and pepper (preferably with your hands!) until well combined. Press into a greased loaf pan.
Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
2) Mix together the ingredients for the coating and set aside.
3) Remove the loaf from the oven and spread the coating over the top of the loaf. Cook, uncovered, for another 15 minutes-25 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cookies Are Officially Okay For Breakfast

I realize the big theme in my last few posts has been about my love for Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I promise, I have a mental stockpile of recipes from other cookbooks I want to try and from childhood which I'm working on veganizing. My love for this book is fairly rapturous, though, so I appreciate your patience while I'm working through this particular love affair.

As with many relationships, there is initial phase of complete infatuation, and the more you learn about one another, the more different twists and turns emerge that could lead to an even deeper love. This happened to me yesterday with Vegan Cookies. Why? Because there are suggestions for making breakfast cookies. As I have previously written, I feel strongly that there is no discernible difference between eating a donut and eating dessert for breakfast. This doesn't mean that I am ripping on the almighty donut; rather, why aren't we recognizing the potential that dessert has to offer at other meals?

Enter Vegan Cookies and the authors' dedication to providing some breakfast cookie recipes. Score. Now I should note that they have written a recipe for banana oatmeal breakfast cookies, but that is not the recipe I've adapted below. Rather, they have a recipe for "banana everything" cookies, with a suggestion for making it breakfast friendly. I took it a little further and added dried fruit. I think there are other ways it can be "breakfasted" as well and I might update the recipe in the future, but I think this is pretty darn tasty on its own right now.

RECIPE UPDATE: I made another batch and tried to give them more of a healthy twist so Greg could bring a snack to work, and I think I was met with success! I've updated the recipe below; there are just simple swaps that can be made, so for the "healthier" version, I've put the swap in the ingredient list in parentheses.

Banana Oatmeal Raisin Flaxseed Cookies (adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar)
Yields: 2 1/2 -3 dozen cookies

1 banana, peeled and mashed
1/3 c. canola oil (or applesauce)
2/3 c. sugar (or raw sugar)
1 tsp. vanilla
Just a little shy of one cup of flour (or 1/2 c. whole wheat flour + 1/2 c. soy flour, or 1 c. whole wheat flour if you think soy flour is freaky)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. ground flaxseeds
2 c. oats
1/2 - 3/4 c. raisins, optional

1) Mix the banana, oil (or applesauce), sugar, and vanilla until well combined. Add flour, soda, cinnamon, and flaxseeds gradually, until just mixed. Mix in oats and, if desired, raisins.
2) Using a cookie scoop or tablespoons, make a small cookie ball and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then cool completely on wire rack.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Vegan Holiday Cookie Journey Begins

As promised, it didn't take long for me to start thinking about holiday baking! Of course I'm not already baking the final product that will be served during the holidays. It's just that I don't have any vegan cookies already in my arsenal. Every year I probably make any where from 10-15 batches of cookies, which I love, and I'd like to branch out and try to make some pies and different cakes as well this year. I'm feeling ambitious, but up to it - but if I want to make these desserts vegan, I need to start playing around with recipes now so I can be more confident later in the season.

The first cookie I took a crack at was the cookie least like to be amenable to veganizing - the macaroon. I wasn't that familiar with macaroons until I started Greg; they are his favorite holiday cookie. The ingredients in macaroons? Egg whites whipped into meringue, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut. You can see how 2/3 of this recipe was a problem. There are recipes out there for turning soy milk into condensed milk, but I had no clue what to do about the egg whites.

Making macaroons also became more of a mission because about a month ago, Greg officially gave up eggs. This is huge, because formerly, Greg was a big eater of omelets and pad thai with scrambled eggs, and macaroons were a fave, but now, he has left eggs behind. I support his decision (not shocking, given this blog, I know!) but I can't stand the thought of him having to give up so many things that he loves. I knew I had to make the macaroons work; just because Greg gave up eggs shouldn't mean that he has to give up all of his favorite things to eat.

I have been collecting from the internet for vegan macaroons; they all looked okay, but there wasn't anything that I felt would really mimic classic macaroons. I wasn't exactly sure how to proceed. And then, my new cookbook came: yes, the book I've been hyping, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I cracked open my new copy, and what did I find - a cookie for macaroons with chocolate bottoms. Hooray! Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have never led me astray before, and I felt good that I could figure something out.

And I'm pleased to say, I feel like we do have a winner! The surprising ingredient here: tofu. (I will pause a moment so the anti-tofu crowd can gag.) Using tofu instead of egg whites makes sense; tofu and eggs structure functionally the same way, and flavored the right way, they definitely can taste very similar. That is the key with this recipe; although many recipes can skip the extracts, in this one they are necessary to make sure the tofu melds into the rest of the eggs. I have suggested some variations, though, to please different palates. You can also dip these macaroons in melted chocolate for an extra kick.

And Greg's reaction? Let's just say he's sitting next to me on the couch now, snacking on a classic macaroon, with a smile on his face and intermittently asking "Really, there's tofu in this?" I think we can add this cookie to the holiday baking list.

Macaroons (adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar)
Yields: 2 1/2 - 3 dozen

3 ounces extra firm tofu (1/4 package), pressed*
1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
1/4 c. soy milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
vanilla extract (1-1 1/2 tsp. if you prefer the almond flavor, 2-3 tsp. if you prefer a vanilla-y flavor)
1 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut**
1/2 c. vegan semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

1) Puree the tofu, oil, and soy milk in a food processor until smooth.
2) Transfer tofu to a bowl and mix in sugar and extracts. Mix in flour and baking powder. Finally, mix in coconut until well incorporated. (It will look like too much, but it's not - I promise!)
3) Drop cookies by the tablespoonful or with a cookie scoop onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-14 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, until the bottoms and tops are just beginning to brown.
4) Remove from oven; cool on sheets for two minutes, and then cool completely on cookie racks.
5) If you prefer, melt chocolate chips in the microwave (Put in microwave for 30 second intervals and mix in between. Chocolate will probably be melted after one minute.) Dip the cookie bottoms into the chocolate, or dip half the cookie into the chocolate; dry on parchment paper in the fridge for 30-40 minutes.

*Part of the trick with tofu is to prepare it properly before you even start cooking. Whenever you'd like to cook with tofu, put the tofu between two plates with a can on top for 30 minutes. This will press out the extra liquid and make it ready for further cooking.
**Most people can easily find sweetened coconut flakes at their grocery store; honestly, I'm not sure if it will make a difference or not. The original recipe called for unsweetened, which Whole Foods sells, so I picked up a bag, gave it a try, and liked it a ton. I find that unsweetened is drier than sweetened and gave the cookie a nice crunchiness while keeping the center soft, so it might be worth it to pick it up and give it a try.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bulgur and Burgers

Not surprisingly, this is the time of year I really ramp up my baking. Get ready; there are weeks of cookie recipes to come, as well as my new exploits into pie baking and bread baking and substituting some holiday faves, like evaporated and condensed milks.

So my first November post is...not about baking? Truth to be told, I've been really ridiculously excited about baking in November and December, like I always am (especially now that the new cookbook, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, has finally arrived - it looks amazing!). But I've been lacking ingredients, which has put a halt on the process. And I don't mean the usual omissions, like I usually write about in my posts when it's become clear I've forgotten something and need to make an off-the-cuff substitution. I mean I don't even have the basics to get a project started. Depressing, especially for me. The good news, though, is that I went shopping last night and reloaded my kitchen, and I have been reading Vegan Cookies like I suspect most people read The DaVinci Code or Harry Potter, so I'm sure some baked goods posts are forthcoming.

Instead, I thought today I would talk about another dinner idea that has ended up being a big hit in my house: Bulgur Burgers. I'm sure many of readers just scrunched their noses when they read that, but bear with me!

Although I'm generally a fan of such soy products like tofu, tempeh, and soy milk, I try to limit how much of it I eat. Soy is definitely a wonder food and very good for you, but from talking to different doctors and experts and doing research, it is pretty clear that the jury is still out regarding how much soy is recommended per week. I'm no doctor, but the general consensus is that it is fine to eat two significant servings of soy a week (like tofu or tempeh), but anything more than that and people seem to differ. As such, in any given week, Greg and I usually have one meal per week that is very soy-oriented, and occasionally we'll throw in a second one for good measure. In addition, although these options taste good, we try to limit the amount of processed "mock meats" that are on the market, because we figure it can't be healthy to eat out of the freezer constantly.

So what the heck else are we eating, especially to get protein? The good news is that there is a significant amount of protein in beans, grains, seeds, and some kinds of pasta, plus protein that gets overlooked in fruits and vegetables, so we have been experimenting with different kinds of recipes to vary our eating routine and still get plenty of protein.

One of the grains we've really enjoyed is bulgur, which is a great source both of fiber and protein. I think the majority of people eat bulgur (also called cracked wheat) in tabbouleh, which, although good, can get old kind of fast. And then one day, I was flipping through one of my trusty Moosewood cookbooks (Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, to be exact) and found a recipe for bulgur burgers. Wow, have these turned out to be great! Greg and I love these because they are filling, and they are crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. We've had them with a whole number of sides: everything from fries to roasted vegetables to a simple salad.

The original Moosewood recipe calls for a number of ingredients but, as this post - and many previous posts - have highlighted time and again, I am usually lacking some kind of ingredient. I find it is really easy to substitute ingredients or just leave out some ingredients altogether; just make sure at least one or two of the ingredients will serve as a binder to hold everything together. The other nice thing about this recipe is that it is really easy to make ahead in one of two ways; you can either cook the bulgur ahead of time and then mix in the extra ingredients before making burgers, or you can mix everything together and just make the burgers right before baking.

I should note that when it comes to homemade burgers, I am terrible at actually getting the burger to stay together, regardless of what the recipe says. Although I've had the burgers fall apart on me in this recipe as well, I can say I've definitely had the most success with keeping these together. Or, on the flip side, sometimes I don't feel like making all of the burgers; in that case, you can honestly just skip making these into burgers and eat the hot bulgur mixed with the ingredients by itself, or mix everything together and reheat the next day (which I usually do). I love this recipe because it is so versatile, so don't be afraid to experiment!

Bulgur Burgers (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)
Yields: 8-10 burgers

To prepare bulgur:
3 c. water
2-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 c. bulgur
Olive oil or fat-free spray

To prepare burger mixture:
1/2 c. chopped scallions or diced onions
1/2 c. grated carrots
1/4 c. hummus (try different flavors!)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (or else I have subbed just regular chopped tomato)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 heaping teaspon Dijon mustard
black pepper

1) Boil water; while water is boiling, saute garlic and bulgur in oil or well-sprayed pan over medium-high heat. Stir frequently. When the water boils, add it to the bulgur (it will sizzle, that is normal!). When the water boils again, cover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the bulgur is cooked (the water will be absorbed, and the bulgur will be soft but chewy).
2) When the bulgur is cooked, remove from heat and mix in the ingredients. Form the mixture into 8-10 burgers and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. They will be done when the outside is crunchy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ask Veg Baker, J.D.: The Whole Foods Phenomenon

One of the surprising questions I get often is my love for Whole Foods. I write about the good ol' WF frequently in my blog posts, and I often cite to ingredients that may not be universally available, but are often found at Whole Foods. So I suppose today's Ask Veg Baker, J.D. question is sort of a hybrid question (or "compound question," for my legal readers out there): why do I have my love affair with Whole Foods, and do I have any tips for people who'd like to shop there on a frequent basis without spending ridiculous amounts of money?

Basically, I enjoy shopping at Whole Foods because the items on the shelves mirror many of my food morals. I like that I can buy my groceries with zero worries that something has high fructose corn syrup or artificial trans fat, because those items simply won't make the cut. It is much easier to be a budding vegan who is still trying to make her way in the world when there is a place that features many different kinds of products to keep my creative cooking juices flowing. I also appreciate the emphasis on local support, not just in the produce department, but with the prepared foods that are sold and donating bag discounts to help local charities, "one dime at a time."

Affording Whole Foods, on the other hand, is a whole other proposition. Yes, this beloved institution did not earn the nickname "Whole Paycheck" for being economical. However, I do all of the family grocery shopping at Whole Foods. This is certainly not because of our super wealth; if you took a peek at what my student loan statement, you would know that is true. Rather, I can buy roughly $50-$70 worth of groceries to feed us for 10-12 days as well as personal items, which, especially living in the city, I think is fairly reasonable. At least, I think it is probably reasonable, because if you remember from my previous week of posts on thriftiness, you will recall a certain Mr. Greg who is not so keen on the wasting of money, and he fully supports my shopping at the WF.

How in the heck does this happen? There are a few easy points to remember, and I think you will see your WF bill go way down.
1) Do not be rushed when you go to Whole Foods. This is not a store where it is safe to mindlessly throw items in the cart; this will come back to haunt you. Often times, I have found if I go slowly down the aisles, I can find the same item for much cheaper. Case in point? Once I needed tomato paste. I found a 6 ounce can of tomato paste for $5.69. This is truly ridiculous. I stopped, took a breath, and scanned the whole aisle. One shelf over, I found another brand of tomato paste, in a 6 ounce can - for ninety-nine cents. Slow shopping is your friend. (And, the more you do it and the more often you go, the faster you eventually get...the shelves don't change all that much!)
2) Only buy sale produce. After surveilling the produce department on a few visits, I realized something important - the sale produce is always what is in season. The other stuff is so expensive because supply is low (and frankly, if the produce is out of season, it won't taste as good anyway). Not only has this cut down on my grocery bill, but our dinners taste better because the food is in season, and I've branched out and tried other veggies I wouldn't have otherwise purchased.
3) Keep an open mind - and open eyes - when going down the aisles. Sometimes, my beloved WF will put the exact same item in two completely different parts of the store and price them differently. For example, you can buy awesome Whole Foods guacamole in the produce department...or pick up the exact same container in the chips aisle, for about $1.50 cheaper. Greg has also noticed that sometimes food in the bulk bin is also in the specialty bars, like make your own trail mix, but the costs can vary. So last weekend, I needed chopped peanuts; by buying the peanuts in the bulk area instead of the trail mix bar, I save $1/pound.
4) Bring your own bags. Hopefully this will start to be second nature; it's good for mother earth, and frankly, I find it is easier to carry stuff home in my own bags than paper bags. Plus, you save a dime per bag; it might not be much, but it adds up!
5) Love and embrace the 365 brand. It is truly great stuff, and the prices are more than reasonable.

And finally, although I love Whole Foods, I think it is also worth mentioning that if you have a small natural foods store in your neck of the woods, check it out; its prices may be competitive. I lived in Springfield, IL, for a year before starting law school, and there was an absolutely wonderful place, Food Fantasies, where I did all of my shopping, and the prices were great. It never hurts to check it out!

So, in honor of my Whole Foods thrifty strategies, I present a recipe that I found in Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates. I noticed that organic winter squashes were on sale for 99 cents/pound, so I did what I often do: I bought the sale item (here, a butternut squash), I took it home, and I tried to figure out how to make it. This recipe was definitely a winner and has made it into the repertoire; even Greg, who does not like squashes, gets a big smile when butternut squash arrives from the store.

Roasted Winter Squash (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates)
Serves: 4 side dishes or 2 main portions
(Sometimes, Greg and I eat this for dinner, with a simple pasta, like pasta with caramelized onions, on the side)

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash (the original recipe also recommends pie pumpkin)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to coat squash
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
Salt and pepper

1) Peel the squash and remove the seeds. Chop the flesh into cubes and put in bowl.
2) In the bowl, add the "extra" olive oil, to coat (approximately 2-3 teaspoons). Add a dash of salt. Mix until the squash is coated.
3) Dump squash onto a baking sheet; roast in a preheated 450 degree oven for 25-40 minutes. The flesh of the squash should still have some firmness, but the squash will be soft when you bite into it.
4) While the squash is roasting, heat 1/3 c. of olive oil on the stove. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the red wine vinegar and sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove the sauce from heat and add a dash of salt and pepper.
5) When squash is cooked, remove from oven and dress with the sauce.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Turning Yucky into Yummy

As much as I've been enjoying my vegan transition, there's been one area that's been a little sticky...and that is finding a yogurt substitute. This is something that, in theory, should be super easy to do. I used to eat dairy yogurt at home only, because the big brands (with some exceptions) usually have gelatin in them, a definite vegetarian no-no. Yogurt used to be a way for me to enjoy something sweet and got a little kick of calcium and protein, too. So on my to-do list, I added finding a yogurt substitute.

Let's just say I'm not there yet.

I used to be freakishly afraid of soy yogurt. When I finally got up the nerve to use soy yogurt in my baked goods, my fear diminished. Soy yogurt has truly proven to be a great substitute for sour cream or eggs in a recipe, and I'm happy to include it all the time. But each time I cracked open the container and thought about eating it straight, by itself, I'd turn up my nose and decide against it.

Finally, after all of my soy yogurt baking exploits had been successful, I decided that I was being truly unfair. If soy yogurt could be substituted in baked goods with no change in the overall taste or texture of most of my recipes, then I should like this stuff by itself. Or so you think. One spoonful of the vanilla yogurt later, and I thought this should be headed for the trash.

As you all know, though, I hate wasting food, and I definitely did not want to throw away a perfectly *good* (good as in not expired, not tasty...) container of soy yogurt. I remembered a recipe in Jillian Michaels's book Master Your Metabolism for a dairy smoothie, so I used that recipe for inspiration and threw some ingredients in a blender, put some of it in a travel mug for work, and then froze the rest. The smoothie was good and filling.

What I wasn't expecting was how delicious the frozen concoction would be. I brought that to work the next day, intending to stick it in my fridge in my office so it would thaw and I could have an afternoon smoothie. Wouldn't you know, by 3:30 I was starving and needed protein, and that sucker was just as frozen as it had been at 8 AM. So I grabbed a spoon from the lunchroom and started eating. And it was fabulous! It tasted just like a fruit sorbet, and it provided snacks for me for the next several days.

Perhaps I shouldn't yet give up on my yogurt substitution quest; when my Whole Foods starts to carry rice milk yogurt, maybe I should give that a try. I tried a lime flavored soy yogurt and didn't like that either, but perhaps I will like another flavor. I do know one thing, though; if I eat soy yogurt for the rest of my days as a smoothie or a dessert, I'll be just fine.

Fruit Smoothie or Fruit "Sorbet"
Yields: Depends on amount of fruit you add...probably roughly 4 cups of the mixture

1 c. blueberries
2 c. frozen strawberries
1 banana
6 ounces soy vanilla yogurt
1 Tbsp. agave nectar (honey would work too, but many vegans do not eat honey)

1) In a blender, combine all ingredients.
2) Either pour in glasses and drink as smoothie, or freeze in a container for at least 6-8 hours to make the frozen dessert.

**Please note that any combination of fruit would probably work; this is just what I used. It is important, though, to make sure that at least some of your fruit is frozen, otherwise you won't get a smoothie. If you don't have frozen fruit, just add ice, but be aware that could water down your smoothie if it gets too warm.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Toll House Cookies on the Horizon?

Yes, my friends, I am so giddy with excitement, I can barely type. Why is that? First and foremost, because I'm a dork. What has excited my geek meter? I just may be on the threshold of cracking the vegan Toll House chocolate chip cookie code. As frequent readers know, I have a constant ongoing battle trying to make a vegan version of chocolate chip cookies that taste like the Toll House recipe. Let's just say last week, I had a major - and wholly unexpected - breakthrough.

Last week, I wrote about the Sparkled Ginger Cookies from Vegan With a Vengeance, a Greg favorite that continues to have such a strong hold, he helped me make another batch over the weekend. When I was making the ginger cookies, what did I notice across the page...but a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies. I admit, the sight alone of the recipe didn't really make a blip on my cookie radar. It was when I read the caption underneath the title that I realized I needed to give these cookies shot. Why? Because the wonderful Ms. Moskowitz explained that she made these cookies for a carnivorous co-worker who didn't believe vegan chocolate chip cookies could replace the butter and egg variety - until he tried these.

After reading the recipe, I realized where things had gone awry for me before. Typically, when I veganize a recipe, I try to keep as many ingredients the same as possible and provide vegan swaps for the animal-based ingredients. This recipe is genius, though, because it deconstructs the original Toll House recipe and rebalances them in order to preserve the original flavors.

Specifically, I am talking about the brown sugar. Frankly, I don't think a chocolate chip cookie can be a chocolate chip cookie without brown sugar. Therefore, I always make sure brown sugar makes it into my manifestation of vegan chocolate chip cookies. I was shocked to see that this recipe didn't have brown sugar - but on further review, I saw why. Brown sugar is simply white sugar and molasses mixed together. What this recipe did, though, was use white (or in my version, raw) sugar with the molasses added later. By breaking apart the ingredients like this, the egg becomes unnecessary, because the molasses is so sticky it acts like a binder. But, because white sugar and molasses are mixed together, the brown sugar flavor is preserved. Hooray!

I mixed this batch together and just about flipped out. Why? Because when I tasted the dough, it tasted EXACTLY like Toll House cookie dough. Score! Unfortunately, in my batch, I found that the dough was dry, and I had trouble actually forming cookies. No matter - once the ingredients were combined, I hand mixed everything and made cookie bars. The result? Let's just say if I never figure out how to make vegan Toll House cookies, these are so close, I will be a contented cookie eater for the rest of my days.

RECIPE UPDATE: I took a tip from Ms. Moskowitz and Ms. Romero in Vegan Cookies; they stated that if your dough is very dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of soy milk to correct the problem. I tried that and it worked like a charm! I've updated the recipe accordingly.

Very Nearly Like the Chocolate Chip Cookies You Had Growing Up
(recipe adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)
Yields: A big ol' pan of cookie bars

1 c. non-dairy butter substitute, softened (like Earth's Balance)
1 1/4 c. raw or white sugar
1 Tbsp. molasses
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. soy milk
2 c. or 1-12 ounce bag of vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips, like Ghirardelli

1) Cream together butter substitute and sugar; add molasses and vanilla and mix until well incorporate.
2) Slowly add flour and baking soda until just mixed. (There will probably be drier clumps.) Mix in 1 Tbsp. of soy milk, just until the dough comes together - don't over mix!
3) Add chocolate chips and mix into the dough, until dough comes together.
4) Press dough into a well-greased 10x15 inch jelly roll pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Some Veggie Updates

I've been about the blog quite a bit lately. I've really been touched by the response. Everyone - vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike - have been extremely supportive. I'd like to work on expanding the blog and making it better to address the helpful feedback I've gotten from people, so starting today I am going to make two changes to my format.

First, I am going to add a tag called "Recipe Update." The nature of the blog is that I am posting recipes that I am constantly working on. Sometimes, I will end up with a result that is really different, and I think that merits a separate post (think all of my crazy chocolate chip cookie posts!). Other times, though, I've just figured out minor things, like turning a recipe that had eggs totally vegan. I want to share this change with my readers, but I don't think it is necessarily worth a post. As a result, I will go back to an old recipe, update the tags (for example, if I've made something vegan that previously wasn't, I'll add the "Vegan" tag), add a "Recipe Update" tag, and I'll flag the part of the recipe that changed within the post. I hope this will help people go back and find a recipe they liked when they initially read it but didn't try it because it either had or lacked particular ingredients when the post first went up.

Second, I've realized lately that a number of the questions are not just limited to vegan baking, but to my vegan transition generally. The questions are never judgmental, and I'm always happy to talk about what has led me towards a vegan lifestyle. Probably the number one question I get is what Greg and I eat for dinner. And here's the thing - although I have no problem talking about what we eat, for some reason, I never, ever remember what we have recently eaten. I think I love food so much that once I'm done eating, I sort of forget what we've already eaten. I realize how sad that last sentence sounds. I am convinced that medical science will have a name for this tendency of mine in the next decade or so, but in the mean time, very well meaning people ask me this fair question, and I stare at them like a deer in the headlights.

I've decided, then, that perhaps one of the best ways to combat this problem is to share some meals ideas that Greg and I have tried on the blog. I'm always happy to share recipes, and although I'd still like the focus to be on baking, I think interspersing some meal ideas as posts with my regular baking commentary could also help me with my other goal, which is to document my journey towards veganism. I really and truly have no desire to "convert" people to veganism, so I hope this addition doesn't make people uncomfortable. Rather, people seemed like they wanted to know what else we're eating, and I'd like to give the people what they want!

With this in mind, here is my first update. I'm into Month Three of the Vegan Experiment, and so far, so good. At this point, I am a vegan within the four walls of my house (and my office, if I bring my lunch), and I haven't used animal products in my baked goods for quite some time. I still function as a vegetarian beyond the confines of home. So far that balance is working well for me. (I've made other lifestyle changes, too, in terms of the shoes, clothes, beauty products I use...since this a blog about food, I won't discuss them, but if you're interested, drop me a line!)

One of the most unexpected changes has been how much fun it has been to cook at home. Granted, it's no surprise that I enjoy cooking, but the prospect of vegan cooking has been daunting. I've found myself leaning on some cookbooks to help me along the way, and I'm sure I will be writing about them more as the months go on.

One such cookbook is a longtime favorite - the Moosewood Cookbook series. One of my absolutely dearest friends gave me a Moosewood Cookbook as a housewarming present when I moved to Hyde Park a few years ago, and I've been hooked ever since. If you are interested in any kind of vegetarian or vegan cooking, you've got to get one of these books. The Moosewood Collective runs a great restaurant in Ithaca, New York, and they also write these cookbooks for their fans. What's great is that the recipes are easy, thoughtful, and delicious. They have recipes for all levels of cook - some basic without the "scary" ingredients of tofu, tempeh, or seitan, and then there are other more advanced recipes for those who want to give those proteins a try. They also include some fish recipes for their pescetarian followers.

The recipe below is a vegan adaptation from the fine people at Moosewood, from their Low-Fat Cookbook. Greg and I have made it for years. It is always a hit, and it is great for making ahead of time and reheating or bringing to a potluck. It also is great as leftovers, which can live in the fridge or be easily freezed for lunches. Enjoy!

Black Bean Chilaquile (adapted from the Moosewood Collective)
Yields: 4-6 servings

Vegetable or olive oil or vegetable oil spray
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups cooked black beans (or 2-15 ounce cans), rinsed and drained
2 cups chopped tomatoes or 1-15 ounce can diced (drained) or crushed tomatoes
3 cups (one bag) frozen corn
1/3 c. lime juice
salt and pepper
Bag of tortilla chips, crushed
2 cups salsa, divided (we like peach-pineapple, but any will do)

1) Heat oil or oil spray in pan. Add onion and saute for five minutes over medium heat, until soft and glistening.
2) Add beans, tomatoes, corn, juice, salt, and pepper. Saute until liquid is reduced, which can take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
3) Spray a 9x13 pan. Put approximately half the bag of crushed chips on the bottom. Cover with bean mixture. Cover mixture with approximately one cup of salsa (until covered, but not soaked). Cover with remaining chips. Cover with remaining one cup of salsa (again, covered, but not soaked).
4) IF BAKING NOW: Put in preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.
IF BAKING LATER: Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready, remove wrapping and bake uncovered in preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes, then crank up oven to 375, leaving the chilaquile in, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mikey Likes It!

If by Mikey, I mean Greg, then yes, this is accurate!

I've noted before that Greg is not a huge fan of sweets. When an amateur baker learns this when she is in a budding relationship with a very cute potential significant other, the effects could be personally devastating. Fortunately, we've been able to work it out. Greg is always game to try something new and at least twice because, open-minded as he is, he believes if you don't like something the first time, it might just be fluke, and everyone and everything deserves a second chance. Greg has also proclaimed that he doesn't like a lot of sweets, but he does like it when I bake. I don't know if that is true or if he is just a good husband, but I'll take it.

For my part, this has meant trying to work on my food pushing. What do I mean by food pushing? Let's just say the first time my college roommate Katie's now-husband came over, he exclaimed, "Wow, look at all the snacks that are out!" And Katie famously said, "Yep, that's Beth - she's a feeder." So needless to say, when I bake something, I need to stop myself from shoving more food at Greg when he only eats one or two cookies.

Even though Greg and I have found this happy medium, the fact that someone would just "settle" for a particular snack...well, I find that to be troubling. I put myself on a mission to find a cookie that Greg would love, that would be a special cookie just for him, because, darn it, he deserves it!

As Greg and I have been experimenting with veganism more, I've realized that many recipes I've been preparing for dinner require powdered ginger. I have very little experience with ginger, either in sweet or savory dishes. Greg, on the other hand, seems drawn to dishes with the stuff. Whenever the "pesce" part of his pescetarianism makes an appearance and he eats sushi, he just gobbles up the pickled ginger. This got me thinking - what if I made him cookies that had ginger in it? I've never seen him eat gingerbread during the holidays, so I'm not sure if he likes it or not, but I do know in general he has a thing for soft cookies.

Needless to say, my search was short. Thank you Isa Chanda Moskowitz and Vegan with a Vengeance. I think it is only appropriate that I decided to make her Sparkled Ginger Cookies. Not only did her cookbook first give me confidence that maybe I could try this vegan thing, but she also has some of the best vegan baking tips ever. Let's just say I've preordered her new vegan cookies cookbook coming out next month, and I am counting down the days until Amazon delivers.

So how did these cookies stack up? Let's jusy say Greg, who is usually a model of restraint, gobbled up ten after his first tasting. I think we have a winner. :)

Sparkled Ginger Cookies (adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)
Yields: 3 dozen cookies

1 c. + 1/4 c., divided, raw or demetra sugar (white sugar will also work, but try to get raw sugar for the 1/4 cup)
2 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. molasses
1/4 c . soy milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda

1) Mix together 1 c. sugar, ginger, cinnamon, oil, molasses, soy milk, and vanilla.
2) Slowly add flour and baking soda to wet ingredients, until just mixed.
3) With each cookie, make a one-inch ball, and then flatten the ball into a 1-1/2 inch disk. Press each cookie into a bowl which has the remaining 1/4 c. sugar and place sugar side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
4) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes (rotate halfway through); then remove from oven and let cookies sit on the baking sheet for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and cool completely.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How Chocolate Chip Cookies So Wrong Ended Up Being So Right

My quest towards vegan chocolate chip cookies that taste like Toll House cookies continues on. A friend from law school had a good suggestion for substituting pumpkin puree for the butter, and given the appropriateness of the season, I decided to give it a try.

Did the final result taste like chocolate chip cookies? Frankly, no, not even close. I could tell by the time the dough came together that there was no way I could scoop these into cookies. However, I don't like wasting food, so I went ahead and mixed in the chocolate chips, poured the dough/batter into a pan, and baked off the concoction. The result? Delicious! I used to make chocolate chip cookie bars during the holiday season each year, but now I think I will make these instead; they have some of the flavors of the season while having the melty chocolately goodness that I love.

When you look at the recipe (and some of the others I've posted), you'll probably notice that I used raw (also called demetra) sugar instead of white sugar. The reason I used it? I was already baking when I realized that I was out of white sugar, and this was all I had in the pantry. (Something else you may have noticed as a theme in my'd think I learn...)

Anyway, I like baking with raw sugar. First, in the vegetarian community, it's always a crowd pleaser because, unlike some brands of white sugar, raw sugar is always vegan. Second, raw sugar gives baked goods a certain depth of flavor; I like to think of it as a cross between white and brown sugar. Many recipes say that you can straight substitute white sugar and raw sugar. Technically, I think this is correct. I find that I get the best results, though, if I add the raw sugar with the wet ingredients and let the mixture sit for a minute or two; that way, the raw sugar crystals can dissolve and the texture of the final baked good isn't affected too much. Of course, though, this substitution works both ways, so if you'd like to make these bars with white sugar, feel free.

Pumpkin Chocolate Bars
Yields: 16 bars

1/2 c. pumpkin puree
6 Tablespoons brown sugar
6 Tablespoons raw sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 -1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. + 2 Tablespoons flour
1 c. vegan semisweet chocolate chips

1) Mix together puree and sugars; mix in applesauce and vanilla.
2) Gradually add flour and baking soda. Stir in chocolate chips.
3) Pour batter into greased 9x9 square pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ask Veg Baker, J.D.: What's the Deal with Applesauce?

Hello everyone! First off, please accept my apologies for my one week delay in posting, but I'm back and raring to go!

To make up for my absence, I thought I would address a question I get all the time: what's my obsession with putting applesauce in so many of my vegan recipes?

My answer: because applesauce is a wonderful multitasker and can replace both a liquid fat AND eggs! (although not necessarily at more below...)

When I was a young sprout, my mom taught me a great trick I could put right up my sleeve: you can use applesauce to replace the oil in boxed mixes. It's great because if you're in a pinch and you're out of oil (or other liquid fat, including melted butter), applesauce can swoop in and save the day. I often bake with it because it works like a fat with the benefit of having no fat; this means you preserve the flavor of a tasty baked good while cutting out obscene amounts of fat. No complaints here! Applesauce also works great because it adds a dense moisture to foods and adds depth to the final product's flavor profile without altering the taste itself. All in all, these are all great things!

When I decided to go the vegan route and was looking for eggs substitutes, I was shocked to see that applesauce can also be used. I should caution that applesauce cannot be used universally as an egg substitute; as Isa Chandra Moskowitz so eloquently stated in Vegan with a Vengeance, it helps to determine whether eggs are used in a recipe to bind the ingredients together or whether the eggs also leaven. As long as the eggs were used just to bind, applesauce is great. Therefore, I find that applesauce works well in quick breads (like pumpkin bread), cakes, and some "heftier" cookies, like the Oatmeal Banana Cookies and the Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk cookies. The other reason I like to use applesauce as an egg replacer is because I cut down on food waste; whenever I would buy a dozen eggs or egg beaters, they almost always went bad before I could finish using them. I don't have that problem with applesauce, or if I have a bunch, I can freeze the applesauce until I need to bake with it.

This all said, I wouldn't use applesauce to replace both the fat and the eggs in a recipe; I would figure out which role you want it to play and then determine a substitute for the other product. For example, with rare exception, I tend to use applesauce as an egg replacer when the recipe calls for a solid fat. Applesauce can only replace liquid fats, and I can use Earth's Balance as a great dairy replacment. However, if the recipe calls for oil, I almost always replace the oil with applesauce to cut down on fat and then play around with other egg substitutes, like bananas or soy yogurt.

So, appropriately, to further today's celebration of applesauce, I am including a recipe for homemade unsweetened applesauce, with tips for how to sweeten it, if that's your cup of tea. I played around with this recipe over the weekend. My wonderful mom offered to pick up "some" apples for me when she went apple picking - she very generously gave me a bushel! So needless to say, I'm trying to put those apples to good use. Similarly, if you ever find you have a couple of apples in the fridge that are not much longer for this world, you can save them by scaling this recipe down and making some applesauce.

I should also note that unsweetened applesauce - which is literally just water and apples - is dog-safe. You can freeze it and give it to the pups like ice cream. I'm not so sure if unsweetened applesauce is universally liked by dogs, though. I made some applesauce for Sheila and Lucy over the weekend and gave them an unfrozen version, and they were kind of confused. They clearly really wanted to like it, but they had never seen anything with that kind of texture before, so they were a little weirded out by how it looked. No matter; it was tasty to this human. :)

Please note, if you do choose to go beyond this recipe and add other ingredients, please don't feed it to your dog.

Unsweetened Applesauce
Yields: 2-3 cups of applesauce

8 apples
1 cup water
(hints for sweetening for a human-only version are at the end)

1) If you please, remove the skins. Some people like sauce with the skins on, but others think it is weird to have skins floating around their sauce. This is a judgment call on your part.
2) Core the apples and cut into bite size pieces. For reference, I often use an apple corer that also yields 8 individual slices; I cut each of those slices into 3 pieces, and that is enough. Don't feel like you have to do a crazy dice.
3) Put apples in a pot with one cup of water and cover. Bring to a boil.
4) When boiling, give the apples a stir (they should start to be mushy at this point), turn the heat down so the water is simmering, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

That's it! You can easily scale this recipe up or down and freeze what you don't want.
If you like a little sweetness in your sauce, at the end of the 20 minutes simmering, you can add a little white and/or brown sugar and some cinnamon to taste; mix until dissolved, and you're done. Some people also like cloves, but I think cloves are gross, so I wouldn't know about that. :) Just remember, if you add these ingredients, this recipe is no longer dog safe.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cheaply Decadent

I never thought I would see "cheaply" describe "decadent" in my life. But I think homemade truffles might be just that.

As I think this blog has made clear on a fairly continuous basis, I just cannot get enough of chocolate. How so? The summer I gave up chocolate, I lost 40 pounds. Well, there was the whole diet and exercise thing, but let's be real, no chocolate probably played a major role there, too.

But now that chocolate has firmly re-entered my life, I'm not too shy to say that I can enjoy it in many forms and, thank goodness, it has not been too difficult to go the vegan route and still preserve all that I love about chocolate. One of my weaknesses, though - and one of my expensive weaknesses - is truffles. Compounding the problem is that I live in the home city of Vosges Haut Chocolate, which simply has the best truffles. EVER. The concept behind Vosges is simple. Chocolate by itself is not that exciting; however, by adding some slight flavors (some you can taste directly, and others you can't), chocolate can *pop* in exciting and unexpected ways. And my addiction began!

But boy, do you pay the price for that goodness. Nine of those awesome truffles are $26. And are they worth it? Yes. Can I afford to keep that up to feed my addiction and impress my family and friends? No. Fortunately, because I apparently have the cognitive level of a very small child, I found that as long as I avoid going to the Vosges store, I forget about them. Out of sight, out of mind.

And then, my neighborhood Whole Foods opened, and started selling Vosges chocolate bars - clearly NOT a good situation. And although I had a difficult time putting the words "cheaply decadent" together, I have an even harder time putting "will" with "power." Yipe!

Enter the Barefoot Contessa, here to save me again! I saw her make these truffles on her Food Network show, and I was amazed at how easy they are to make and just how darn fancy they are; use soy cream and read the labels on your chocolate, and you've also got a vegan treat. I also strongly suspect that these truffles make a good "base" recipe; that is, at the stage where you add the coffee (which provides said *pop* here), I wonder if you sub in some of the Vosges secret ingredients if you will get an equally fancy result with a different flavor. In her original recipe, Ina Garten adds 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier as well as the coffee. But I'll save those fun experiments for down the road.

Chocolate Truffles (adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)
Yields: A whole bunch of truffles (although these store well in the fridge)

1/2 pound good bittersweet chocolate (My vegan fave is Equal Exchange or 365 Brand dark chocolate)
1/2 pound good semisweet chocolate (Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips are vegan)
1 cup soy cream 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1/2 teaspoon good vanilla extract
Powdered sugar
Cocoa powder

1) If necessary, chop up the chocolate and put them in a mixing bowl.
2) Heat the soy cream in a small saucepan until it just boils and then cool for 20 seconds.
3) Pour the cream on the chocolate (be careful; try to find a bowl that won't get hot). Slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted.
4) Stir in coffee and vanilla, and set aside at room temperature for an hour.
5) Using two teaspoons or a cookie scoop, scoop round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll each ball of chocolate in your hands to roughly make it round. If desired, roll in confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, or a mixture of the two.
6) Store in the fridge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spoiling Puppies on a Budget

Words cannot describe how much Greg and I love our puppies, Sheila and Lucy. From the moment we laid eyes on them at the shelter, we knew both of them needed to come home with us. They were roommates at PAWS Chicago, a wonderful cage-free shelter that Greg and I adore.

Sheils and The Moose, as we more commonly call them, were in the same suite. When we adopted them, they were four months old. They had been at PAWS for one month. They were brought in with their litters, who were instantly adopted out, and our little girls were left over and paired together. It was clearly meant to be because Greg and I visited PAWS, fell in love with them instantly, swooped them up, and took them home. Now, two years later, I cannot imagine life without them.

People often ask me if the wonderpups are vegetarian or vegan. To their surprise, the answer is no. After doing some research, I haven't really found anything that makes me feel comfortable making the girls go totally veg. From what I can tell, dogs are perfect omnivores; they really do require both animal and plant products to have a healthy diet. Obviously, though, there are the ethical considerations that Greg and I wrestle with as well. I think we've found a balance that makes us comfortable. For their meals, we feed Sheila and Lucy Wellness Sweet Potato and Whitefish food; Greg is a pescetarian, so it made sense to give fish to the girls, too. We also give them rawhides because dogs need to chew! When it comes to treats, though, we give them vegetarian, and almost always vegan, treats, since we figure that will help boost the plantstuffs they need to eat.

We have a wonderful local natural pet food store, Kriser's, that supplies the girls with all they need, but you can also make dog treats on the cheap. The good news is that dogs can eat some of the fruits and vegetables that their owners eat. We feed Sheils and Moose carrots (peeled and cut up), apples (core, seeds, and stem removed), and banana (peeled). The girls also love sweet potatoes, either baked or dehydrated. They are huge fans of natural peanut butter and have a preternatural sense when it is coming out of the fridge. (As far as I know, only natural peanut butter is safe for dogs. More dog food safety below.)

So what does all of this have to do with "being fancy on a budget"? Well, as much as we love spoiling the girls, it can add up. Greg and I like to give the girls a treat we buy at the store, marketed as a "dog smoothie." I used to think, for $7.50 for six servings, it was a pretty good deal. Then I read the ingredients and realized I could make the same thing for much cheaper. After playing around in the kitchen, I yielded a treat that Sheila and Lucy slurped up, and I made the same quantity as what we buy at the store for around $1.50. Smoothie people, you've been great to us, but I think the budget wins on this one.

There are two important words of warning before feeding your puppies homemade treats. First, don't overdo feeding your dogs in a sitting, either with these treats or with fruits, veggies, and peanut butter generally. In an attempt to be delicate, I will just say that fiber has the same effect on dogs as it does humans, and you don't want to hurt your puppy's tummy. Second, please do research before feeding fruits and vegetables to your dogs; there are some that can cause great harm or even death, including onions, grapes, raisins, and avocados. We keep sugar-free gum out of the house, because even a little bit can be fatal to a dog within an hour. In short, please consult your vet for advice on feeding your furry friend.

Homemade Doggy Ice Cream
Yields: 6-8 servings (1 serving = 1/4 cup)

1 apple chopped up (peeled, cored, seeded, and stem removed)
2 bananas
1/4 - 1/3 c. natural peanut butter
1/2 c. water

1) In a blender, combine all ingredients until smooth.
2) Place in container and freeze until solid (about 5-6 hours).
3) To serve to your dog, scoop up 1/4 c. of the frozen mixture into your pup's bowl. He or she can take it from there. :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Being Fancy on a Budget

I apologize for the back-to-back theme weeks; anyone who knows me will likely be surprised by this, seeing as how in the areas of thinking of themes and executing them, I'm pretty weak. When I was planning my wedding, I didn't know that you're supposed to pick colors, and even once I was clued in, I still didn't. But still inspiration has struck me in a pretty big way, and people who know me also know that once I get an idea, I grab onto it and won't let go in pretty frightening fashion.

Which officially brings me to theme week 2 here at Veg Baker, J.D.: Being Fancy on a Budget! I hesitate to call this do-it-yourself week or something like that, because, well, anyone who's baking from scratch is doing it themselves! So I've decided that this week will be about surprising things you can make from scratch, that taste delicious and are inexpensive, and that will wow the socks off of most of your family and friends.

The "fancy budgeting" idea arose after a conversation I had with Greg last week. Greg is absolutely one of the most generous people I know; when it comes to donations or fundraising or doing something special for a friend, he doesn't think twice and jumps right into action. Greg, however, hates wasting money; that is, blowing money on stupid things for apparently no particular reason.

Greg and I were talking about the latter category when Greg was reviewing our credit card bill last month and noticed I had made a daily habit of spending $6-8 every morning at Starbucks. This seemed weird to him for a number of reasons. First of all, I don't drink coffee, tea, or hot beverages of any kind. Two, I hadn't been treating friends or co-workers, something he would have wholeheartedly supported; nope, I'd been going on these morning excursions all by myself. So seriously, what the heck was I spending my money on? It's easy: orange juice, chocolate-covered graham crackers, and a multigrain bagel. Needless to say, I had to scrape him off the floor when I told him the 11 ounces of orange juice I was buying cost $3.25/bottle. (Lesson learned there: now I've stashed a 55 ounce bottle of Simply Orange in my office fridge, which means I get a week's worth of OJ for $3.)

So was it ridiculous to spend this amount of money for not much? Yes. But here's the thing...those Starbucks multigrain bagels are SO GOOD. I went and bought some bagels from the store, and they were kinda gross and didn't cost that much less. Greg conceded that spending $1 for my bagel was reasonable, but after the orange juice fiasco, the wheels were already turning in my head. Could I make bagels myself at home?

The answer is a resounding yes! After reading a great article about whether it makes sense to make or buy certain items at (, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that homemade bagels are easy to do, have more flavor than those at the store, and they only cost a quarter to make on your own. A quarter? I had to give this a try!

Making my own bagels is more momentous than it sounds. You see, as much as I love to bake, I have never baked with yeast before. I have this fear of yeast that makes no sense. It just such a foreign ingredient to me that seems like it can be easily screwed up, and that was enough to keep me away. Two of my closest friends make bread and pizza crust from scratch all the time, and they were great and showed me how to do it, but I was still scared. I was at a friend's wedding shower last spring, and she smartly sat me at a table with all of her Greek relatives who love to cook, and they explained to me how to use yeast. A sweet gesture, but I was still freaked out.

After finding the recipe below at Tammy's Recipes online, though, I felt like this was something I could do, so I finally decided to confront my yeast fear head-on. Plus, I was pleased to learn that the basic recipe for bagels is almost vegan; there was only an egg wash so ingredients will stick to the outside, so all I did was omit the wash and, per Tammy's instructions, fold the ingredients directly into the dough instead. And you know what? I'm not sure I'll ever go back to Starbucks...well, at least until Greg stops surveying credit card receipts. And I will most definitely start to bake with yeast more; it's not so scary after all. I'm still working on my technique a bit, so I've put my struggles in footnotes below, but honestly, even if you don't have the technique quite right, the bagels will still turn out fine and be tasty.

Bagels (adapted from
Yields: 6 bagels (although I should say, the original recipe was doubled, so I assume this is easily doubled as well)

3/4 c. warm water
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 Tbsp. salt
2 c. bread flour
anything tasty you like in a bagel - cinnamon, raisins, dried cranberries, nuts, flaxseeds, oats, whatever

1) Mix water, yeast, and sugar; let sit for 3 minutes.
2) Mix 1 c. flour with salt; while mixing, add yeast mixture, and then slowly add the rest of the flour.
3) Knead dough on a flour surface for 5 minutes (add flour if the dough is sticky); the dough will be smooth and firm. Place in a greased bowl and cover with a towel until dough is doubled in size, about 50-60 minutes.
4) Punch down the dough. If adding ingredients, knead them in until just mixed.*
5) Split up dough into 6 balls. Let rest for 5 minutes.
6) Poke a hole in each ball and pull the ball apart by two inches, making a bagel shape. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
7) In batches of two at a time, boil the bagels in a 8 quarts of boiling water for 45 seconds, flipping halfway through. Place the bagels on a wire rack to dry.
8) Put the bagels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 18 minutes. Flip the bagels over and bake for another 17 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

* I must admit, I think I failed kneading in the ingredients. I didn't want the dough to get too tough, but I didn't add enough ingredients and I didn't mix them consistently throughout. I think I also should have probably given the dough a couple of minutes to rest again after mixing in the ingredients and before I cut them up into little bagel balls. That said, I still polished off two bagels when they came out of the oven, so I won't mind making more know, to practice. :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Deliciousness is Only Three Ingredients Away!

Yes, you read that title correctly! Is there a better way to celebrate the end of the first week of school than with cookies that can be whipped up in no time and essentially no ingredients? I think not!

This recipe came from Ellie Krieger, of Food Network fame. She made these cookies on her show, Healthy Appetite, so that automatically makes these health food. She's a nutritionist, and nutritionists never lie. I originally wrote down this recipe a few years ago because it looked so delicious when she made them, but I recently rediscovered it and realized that her ingredients are already vegan - what a treat! Another bonus is that, even though frequent readers know my deep love of Earth's Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, I know EB isn't necessarily ubiquitous in grocery stores yet, so that can complicate baking. What's great about this recipe is there is no need for any sort of butter substitution, so we're good to go!

Speaking of ingredients, you may have noticed that lately I've been using more dark chocolate. There's a pretty straightforward reason for this; although I've always been a huge fan of milk chocolate, there's a word in there that is clearly problematic for a budding vegan like me. I've never really been into dark chocolate, but I've been experimenting with it more because, although there are some varieties that use milk, there are definitely others that are vegan; just read the label. Now that I've been playing around dark chocolate more, I'm realizing it is 1) easy to sweeten, and 2) sweet in its own way, depending on the recipe. For these cookies, I melted 6 ounces of the 365 brand, and was pleasantly surprised to find that when I melted the dark chocolate, it took on a smooth, subtle sweetness, which was definitely welcome to my sugar-loving tastebuds.

For the curious, I do have a favorite brand (or brands?) I gravitate towards. I like Equal Exchange or the 365 Organic Swiss Dark Chocolate found at Whole Foods. I'm almost positive that these are, in fact, the same company, but different groups use different packaging. No matter - the chocolate is high quality and wonderful, and they use fair trade practices with the chocolate producers - all things we can feel good about. The 365 brand is at Whole Foods, and Equal Exchange is a number of places, including Whole Foods and REI. A good tip, though: there are many non-profit organizations that sell Equal Exchange for lower prices for fundraising purposes, both online and in person. It's definitely worth a quick search on Google to locate this stuff!

And now, on to the main event. For the recipe below, I've used the same ingredients that Ellie used in the original recipe, but I've tinkered with ways to simplify how to get the same result with less work. I also think this recipe is ripe for substitutions. I would use the same amount of chocolate, and the same volume of mix-ins, because otherwise the cookie probably won't be able to stand up on its own. But the ingredient combinations are endless! Ellie recommends you toast the almonds, and if you like some smokiness in your food, I agree. However, if you're just into cookie eating for the crunch, no need to toast. I also think you could use coconut in this recipe, and other assorted dried fruit. I also love the tart sweetness of dried cherries, so even though Ellie uses 1/2 c. dried cherries, I am more inclined to using closer to 2/3 or 3/4 cup. If you play around with this recipe and have any successful combos, please post your masterpiece recipe in the comments!

Ellie Krieger's Cherry Almond Chocolate Clusters
Yields: 12 cookies

1 c. slivered almonds
1/2 - 3/4 c. dried cherries, chopped
6 ounces dark chocolate

1) Melt chocolate, either in a double boiler or the microwave. If using the microwave, this should take about 2 minutes; melt the chocolate in 30 second intervals and mix in between (and be careful, because that bowl will be hot!)
2) Add almonds and cherries to the chocolate and mix well.
3) Drop by rounded tablespoons or use a cookie scoop to drop cookies onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
4) Cool in fridge for 15-30 minutes, until chocolate hardens. Store covered in the fridge.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Best Toffee Squares That Taste Nothing Like Toffee

Yes, you read that correctly. One of my most favorites cookies are my mom's toffee squares. She makes them every year during the holidays, although these are certainly a great candidate for a cookie that needs no special occasion for enjoyment.

Whenever I make these, they are always a hit with people, although everyone reacts the same way: "Wow, these are great, but you know that they don't taste anything like toffee, right?" I agree completely, so don't worry, my friends, I don't think you're crazy. My mom got the original recipe from one of the older Betty Crocker cookbooks - a smart move always, I think. I've noticed that whenever I make recipes from older cookbooks, including old church and elementary school fundraiser cookbooks, those are the recipes that are always popular, and I definitely would never argue with the masses. Anyway, in the Betty Crocker cookbook, these cookies are called toffee squares, so maybe this is what toffee tasted like a few decades ago? In any event, the name stuck, and these continue to be toffee squares to me.

At this point, you're probably wondering...if they don't taste like toffee, what do they taste like? I like to think of these more as an inside out chocolate chip cookie. Given my general fascination with chocolate chip cookies, it's no real surprise why these cookies are such a hit with me. They are also great because the recipe is super easy to change to get either a crispy or a soft product, so cookie fans of all types can rejoice! Each year for Christmas, my mom makes two batches: the traditional way and the Alison way. In the traditional way, you use a jelly roll pan to lay out the dough really thinly, so you get a satisfying crunch when you bite into a bar. My sister loves her toffee squares soft, though, so for her, my mom puts another batch in a 9x13 pan. Since the pan is smaller, the cookie is thicker, and the final product is soft lusciousness. That's why Mom rules; she knows all the tricks to make everyone feel special.

Regrettably, I've been so focused on veganizing the original chocolate chip cookie recipe that I haven't had a chance to figure out how to remove the egg from these guys, but I hope to figure that out soon enough. In the mean time, if you're not averse to eggs, I recommend them strongly.

Toffee Squares...Inside-Out Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars...oh, what's in a name?
Yields: 4-5 dozen crispy cookies or 3-4 dozen soft cookies

1 c. non-dairy butter substitute, like Earth's Balance, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
6-12 ounces vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips, like Ghirardelli
Chopped pecans, optional (for added depth of flavor, you can toast the pecans first in a 350 degree oven on a non-oiled cookie sheet for about 10 minutes)

1) Cream together butter substitute and sugar. Mix in egg and vanilla until well combined.
2) Slowly add flour, 1/2 c. at a time, until just mixed.
3) FOR CRISPY BARS: flatten dough into a greased jelly roll (10x13) pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
FOR SOFT BARS: flatten dough into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
4) When cookies are finished, turn the oven off and remove the cookies. Pour chocolate chips on top. (Okay, so Betty Crocker recommended 6 ounces of chocolate. I usually eyeball it and put on 6-8 ounces...and my mom and I agree that sometimes, if you are in a particularly luxurious mood, that the whole 12 ounce bag might make it on there. Whoops, mistakes happen...). Immediately return pans into oven for about 90 seconds.
5) Remove pan from oven and spread out the chocolate across the top. If adding nuts, add them now. Cut into squares and let cool completely.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Veg Baker, J.D.'s Back To School Week Special

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I am actually a fan of Labor Day because, even though it means summer is over and white shoes and purses must return to the closet, to me it is a nice long relaxing weekend that captures the best of the transition of the seasons. In Chicago, Labor Day also means back to school on Tuesday. In that spirit, I bring you Back to School Week here on the blog. I will post three cookie recipes this week, to honor the ages-old tradition of having an after school snack of cookies with milk (soy milk or rice milk, of course!).

I really wanted to get into the groove of the back to school special, so I tracked down three recipes that I thought would be good candidates for veganizing and would be a good fit for my school theme. I experimented with the ingredients, and I brought the results to my sister Alison's and her fiance Dave's house over the weekend, where they graciously hosted my parents, Greg, and me for dinner on their awesome rooftop deck. I brought the test cookies out, the game faces went on, and the cookie tasting began. By munching's end, there was a clear winner of a recipe that needed no more tinkering, and that would be the recipe below.

I originally got this recipe from my college roommate, Katie R, who has this amazing capacity to be sweet, supportive, and all around incredible, while also being able to tell me what I need to hear when times are good or tough (which means she can call me on my antics, but she does it in her sweet Katie way, so she can get away with it!).

Katie gave me this recipe at my wedding shower. Her oatmeal raisin cookies continue to be well-loved by Greg, and this recipe is a great evolution of that tastiness. It mixes all kinds of good things in one spot that should always be together, including oatmeal, cranberries, and white chocolate - yum!

I decided when I was going to veganize this recipe that the trick would be the eggs (although do see my note below about how to make these cookies totally vegan); I was torn whether I should use applesauce or bananas. In the end, I made two small batches for two big reasons. I had made cookies in the past with bananas and they turned out great, and I thought the banana accent would be great in the cookie. However, I thought the cookies would also benefit from the more subtle sweetness of the applesauce and be a hit with the anti-banana crowd.

I am pleased to report that both versions are tasty! Everyone was pleasantly surprised that the final product was a soft, chewy cookie. Alison, Dave, and my dad were huge fans of the version with bananas and thought the banana backdrop gave the cookies a great zing, whereas my mom, who avoids all thing banana, really enjoyed the applesauce version. The good news is, when making this recipe, you can use the same basic basic and just decide whether you want to go the banana route or the applesauce route, so just follow your tastebuds!

I also want to point out that the reason this recipe is not vegan is because of the white chocolate chunks. Try as I might, I was unable to track down white chocolate chips or chunks that did not have dairy in them. If anyone has a good suggestion for vegan white chocolate, please let me know! Otherwise, these cookies are easy to veganize. Either omit the white chocolate chunks completely or, if you feel like I do and taking chocolate out of anything is a travesty, substitute vegan semisweet chocolate chips like Ghirardelli, and you'll still have utter deliciousness.

RECIPE UPDATE: I've learned that vegan white chocolate does, in fact, exist! Please seek those out so the final product is vegan. Otherwise, you can sub in the Ghirardelli semisweet chips.

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
Yields: 2-3 dozen

5 Tbsp. non-dairy butter substitute, like Earth's Balance
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1 mashed banana OR 1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 -1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. oats
3 oz. dried cranberries
1/3 c. vegan white chocolate chips or chunks (or vegan chocolate, if you're going that route)

1) Cream together butter substitute and brown sugar. Add vanilla extract and banana OR applesauce until well mixed.
2) Gradually add flour and baking soda and mixed until just combined.
3) Stir in oats, cranberries, and chocolate.
4) Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
5) Bake in 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, or until edges start to turn golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet and cool completely on wire rack.