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.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lazy Cookies for a Lazy Weekend

In honor of the Labor Day weekend, it is important to remember the season and do as little as possible, particularly because the first hints of fall are a reminder that full-fledged holiday baking is not that far away (did I really say that? Ack - strike it from your mind, fast!)

With Labor Day also comes the return of school, which means that I am biologically preprogrammed to want to eat more peanut butter. I love peanut butter, but for some reason as a kid I never ate the stuff during summer. It was only when school started again that peanut butter would make its triumphant daily return to my lunch, and I absolutely could not be happier.

Mix this all in with weather that swings 25 degrees in a few hours (and my absolute refusal to turn on the air conditioning because of it), and the result is an old favorite: a no-bake cookie recipe that includes the world's best flavor combination, peanut butter and chocolate, and I've changed the recipe so it is vegan. As much as I love the other no-bake recipe I posted, this one is also delicious, with a slightly different flavor profile (think sweet and salty!), and it has the added bonus of having ingredients you probably already have in the house.

The recipe was adapted from a close friend of my mom's, Kate Collins, who is the author of the Flower Shop Mystery series. I'd definitely recommend whipping up a batch of these cookies and then curling up with one of her books - a well-deserved plug, I assure you! Her link is to the right under friends; I hope you'll check it out!

***Apologies that this recipe was inadvertently tagged as gluten free! You probably thought I was a weirdo since I said gluten free when there is clearly flour in the recipe, so I wanted to cop to my mistake.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies
Yields: 3-4 dozen cookies

1/2 c. non-dairy butter substitute (like Earth's Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks)
1 1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. soy milk
1/2 c. cocoa
1 - 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. natural peanut butter (recipe update: natural peanut butter works, smooth or chunky!)
2 1/2 c. oats
1/2 c. flour

1) Melt butter substitute, sugar, soy milk, and cocoa on the stove; bring to a boil, and boil for one minute.
2) Remove from heat and mix in remaining ingredients.
3) Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and cool in the fridge. Store covered in fridge.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Veganizing Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Battle Goes On

I've previously written about my battle with veganizing chocolate chip cookies, and I am sad to report, the heartbreak continues. I am still eternally grateful to Anita E. for her awesome vegan chocolate chip coffee bars; I've made them a few times now, and they have been a huge hit wherever they've gone. My quest to turn the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe into a vegan dream that tastes identical to the original, though, soldiers forward, although the troops are pretty beat up at this point.

My latest endeavor was to try and take out the eggs. Although I often use bananas and applesauce to take out eggs, I'm not totally confident that would work in cookies. The banana flavor, though that has the potential to be yummy, would certainly not duplicate the flavor of the original Toll House cookie, and applesauce adds a moistness that works well in a dessert that is in bar or bread form, but I don't think it would provide enough structure for a cookie that needs to stand up on its own.

What did I do, then? I used soy flour. Greg very cleverly read the back of the soy flour bag and found instructions on how to use soy flour as an egg substitute in baking, so I decided to give it a try. I think this is definitely a trick I will use again. First, it is easy to do: you use one tablespoon of soy flour plus one tablespoon of water mixed together to replace one egg. The result is amazing; there is definitely the same quantity and texture as if you had cracked an egg. I think this is good news, because you can easily replace the volume that the egg would have taken up in the traditional recipe. Second, I was able to use something I already had in the house. As I think my other posts have revealed, I am often in a position where 1) I'm baking and realize I'm out of something so have to make a quick substitution, or 2) I'm just lazy and don't want to go to the store to buy one ingredient unless I really, REALLY need it. I always keep soy flour in the house to make Greg's goodies, so I have it on hand. I know there are great products out there, like Ener-G Egg Replacer, but I've never used them because I don't already have them and I never think to buy it. Although I do hope to try Ener-G one day, I'm really happy with the soy flour substitute for now and I think it works well.

Well, I should clarify: I think it has the potential to be a perfect substitute in other recipes, but not in the world of Nestle. Don't get me wrong - the final product was good, but it definitely didn't perfectly emulate the original Toll House cookie. Sigh. If you are a fan of cookies that have some crispness to them, then I strongly recommend you try the recipe below; it has great flavor, and the cookies were crispy without being burned. I assume this is because of soy's natural tendency to add a little brown color and crisp when baked...I probably should have thought of that before trying to make a soft cookie. Cue handsmack on forehead. But the cookies were still yummy and gobbled up.

I should also note that these cookies, when baked...well, they look kind of odd. There's no nice way to say it. They rose, but in kind of funky shapes, and they sort of had a hill/valley thing going on. Greg was slightly weirded out when he saw them, but then he ate them and really liked them. So I guess the moral of the story here is 1) don't judge a book by its cover, and 2) if you insist on judging a book by its cover, just close your eyes when you eat these and you'll be just fine.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Vegan Attempt #1
(For lovers of crispy cookies with a face only a mother could love)
Yields: 4-5 dozen cookies

1 c. non-dairy butter substitute softened, like Earth's Balance
3/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. soy flour + 2 Tbsp. water, mixed together
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz. vegan chocolate chips, like Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

1) Cream together butter substituted and sugars. Mix in soy flour mixture and vanilla, until well mixed.
2) On low speed, add soda, then slowly add flour 3/4 c. at a time, until just mixed. (If dough looks a little tight or dry, add 1-2 Tbsp. of water until it loosens up like traditional cookie dough.)
3) Mix in chocolate chips.
4) Using a tablespoon or cookie scoop, scoop out dough into little balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 8-12 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.
5) Place sheets on cooling racks for 1-2 minutes, then remove cookies and cool completely on the racks.