Friday, March 22, 2013

Chocolate Orange Liqueur Cake

This is a variation upon my standard family Chocolate Applesauce Cake, as requested by my dad for his birthday this year. You can do without the Sabra, if you like -- just substitute more orange juice or soymilk / water as you see fit.

Chocolate Applesauce Cake (with orange liqueur infusion!)

Makes 1 double-layer cake

3 Cups flour
1 1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

2 Cup applesauce (unsweetened, if possible)
1/2 Cup water
1/4 Cup Sabra orange chocolate liqueur (or more OJ)
1/4 Cup orange juice (or more Sabra)
1/3 Cup cooking oil (or olive oil -- I'm beginning to enjoy using this when baking!)
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit (180 C).  Grease and flour two cake-pans (8" square or round).  Mix all ingredients together and pour into pan.  Bake 30-35 minutes (don't over-bake! this is a GREAT moist cake!), or until toothpick comes out clean. Remember that while the cake will puff significantly in the middle, once it cools, the cake will flatten back down. You're welcome to drizzle 1 - 2 tsp of the Sabra on the surface of each cake if you feel so inclined.

Orange Chocolate Buttercream

1 Cup (2 sticks) Earth Balance or other vegan margarine/butter
2 Cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 Cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)

4 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp finely grated orange zest
2 tsp vanilla extract

Cream together the Earth Balance, cocoa powder, and 1/2 Cup of the sugar. Add 1 Tbsp of orange juice, then another 1/2 Cup of sugar. Repeat this back-and-forth procedure until all the juice and sugar are incorporated. Either beat vigorously with a fork until the frosting is creamy and fluffy, or use a mixer. Add the orange zest and vanilla extra, and voila! You're done!

Now top one layer of the cake with a hearty, thick portion of the buttercream (almost, but not quite, half the batch of frosting), then add the second layer of cake on top, frost that, and then cover the sides. Yum! Some orange sprinkles would look cute on top of this.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cashew Mac & Cheese!

I've made many vegan mac & cheese dishes. I've made the ones where you melt Earth Balance + store-bought cheeses + soymilk and feel your arteries suffer for days. I've made the nasty Mac & Chreese boxed mixes. And I've made nooch sauces, in which broth + nutritional yeast + flour become the base of a disgusting paste that no one will come within 10 miles of.

And now, having finally invested in a 10-cup a food processor, I have made cashew-based mac & cheese. And it's good.

It's almost soul food good, as a matter of fact. My omni dad, vegetarian friends and I all fell in love with the nooch & mustard-heavy version at Soul Vegetarian Exodus in D.C. near Howard University. It is unbeatable. And difficult to replicate. And they won't tell me their recipe! I have been trying for years to figure out their secret. In a very lazy, inconsistent kind of attempt.

So, I turned to Vegan Dad. I've been loving his recipes for a while now (SOME DAY I will make vegan donuts using his recipe...but not yet), and seeing a cashew-based Kraft-esque recipe listed, I had to try it.

I've made some alterations. He uses a blender and so starts off pureeing the raw cashews with what seemed to me to be a lot of water (twice as much as the volume of cashews). My food processor didn't like this arrangement, and plus the sauce was too watery in the end. So, I've cut the water back from 1 1/2 Cups to 1/2 Cup - 3/4 Cup. I also didn't have any onion powder on hand, so I minced about a quarter of a large white onion instead, which I'm sure added liquid he didn't have to deal with. The recipe also made a lot of sauce -- so much that I had leftovers to drizzle on other foods like bread and veggies etc. And I am definitely going to use the leftovers to make my first vegan Grilled Cheese sandwich.

The "too much sauce" problem was probably because I used bowtie pasta, which is huge, so 3 Cups of it turns out to not be as much pasta as 3 Cups of, say, macaroni. I also only had around 2 1/2 Cups of it around, so you might not have the same problem I did. Or, if you do, you could just put the extra sauce on quinoa or go ahead and make some more pasta!

All told, it's not identical to my soul food favorite. I think the roasted red pepper adds a little bit of sweetness that I'm not used to, so next time I might try this recipe without that addition. I may also put it in a casserole pan, top it with bread crumbs, and bake it. We shall see.

It's delicious, though. And my omni dad said it was perfect.

Cashew Mac and Cheese

adapted from Vegan Dad

1 large red pepper
3 Cups pasta (or more, if pasta is a large shape)
3/4 Cup raw cashews*
1/2 - 3/4 Cup water
1/2 Cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard (like Dijon)
1/4 of a large white onion, minced (around 1/2 Cup)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp flour

1/4 Cup Earth Balance
2 Tbsp or so soymilk (adjust to taste)

* Note: I actually used 1/2 Cup raw, unsalted cashews, and 1/4 Cup roasted, unsalted cashews. Your choice.

Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees F (230 C). Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, and place your washed red pepper in the pan. Once the oven's ready, put the pepper in to roast. After 10 - 15 minutes, turn the pepper once. After another 10 - 15 minutes, you can either take the pepper out, if it's looking sufficiently wrinkled and blackened, or you can broil the pepper for another 5 - 10 minutes. I baked the pepper for about 23 minutes and broiled for 7.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta and start on the sauce. Put your cashews and some water (you don't have to put it all immediately) and start pureeing. You're going to want your cashews to be blended until they're totally smooth, which will take a few minutes. Add water as you see fit, but don't put too much water in, or you'll have liquid seeping out the top of the processor, and a very watery mac and cheese. Add the nutritional yeast, mustard, spices, salt, and flour.

Once the red pepper is done roasting, take it out of the oven and wrap it up in the aluminum foil and let it sit for another 5 - 10 minutes. Once the pepper is done, unwrap it, and pull off the crispy outer skin and de-seed your pepper. Cut it up into large chunks, and throw the pepper into your food processor. Blend until smooth!
Now that your sauce is ready, drain your pasta. Using the same heated pan the pasta was once in, melt your Earth Balance and then slowly add the sauce. Cook until thickened, adding the soymilk as desired. (I suppose you could add none at all!). Add the pasta and mix.

Voila! At this point, you could transfer the pasta and sauce to a glass baking pan or casserole pan, top with vegan bread crumbs, and cook at 350 F (180 C) for 20 minutes. Or you could just eat it.

I think the most fun thing about this recipe is that it's actually good for you. It's not a gross thick combination of pre-processed foods with no protein or nutritional content at all. For instance, if we're just looking at protein, this recipe contains about 75 - 80 grams, not including the pasta. My pasta added another 17 grams or so of protein (92 - 97g total). I have no idea how many that is per serving, because it depends on how hungry you are.

Tomorrow night: Roasted Butternut Alfredo, a la the Post Punk Kitchen.


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Friday, March 15, 2013

Tofu Scramble, Notes on

I don't know why everyone thinks you need a recipe to make tofu scramble. You don't. You need some tofu, some onions, some turmeric, some salt, and some oil, and that's it. If you want to make it really, truly tasty, you need some cumin, a clove or two of garlic, maybe some fun mixed herbs (oregano or something), some veggies (bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach), some nutritional yeast, and maybe a dash of black pepper. This method has never failed, except the time when I used tofu that had gone off. I do not recommend you do that. You can not cook your way out of having let your tofu go bad.

Along these lines, it's easy to turn a tofu scramble into something more -- a breakfast scramble with french toast or pancakes on the side, a wrap with salsa or hot sauce, some avocado or guacamole, and vegan cheese layered on top, or even the basis for understanding how to make some nice cheesy fillings like ricotta for stuffed shells and pizza topping.

Basically, it's like soup-making. You find some ingredients that you like, and you throw them in. You mix things around and heat them up and taste a bit until you get it right. My music teacher used to say: "Whenever anyone asks me for a soup recipe to put in a collection, I tell them the same thing. Step One: Open your fridge. Step Two: Take ingredients out of fridge. Step Three: Fill a large pot with water. Step Four: Throw the ingredients in. Step Five: Taste and adjust."

This is essentially the same idea.

  • Don't skimp with the salt (or with the oil). It's an easy mistake to make, but tofu absorbs a lot of salt. Obviously don't dump too much oil or salt in, either -- you'll need to taste-test a few times, and watch to make sure everything in the pan is moving around easily. 
  • Make sure to boil out most of the water from the tofu, but don't let the whole mix shrivel up and dry out in the pan. 
  • Make sure to cook the onions first, then add the spices, then add the garlic, and then after these have cooked a bit on their own you may add the tofu. Mash it up in your hands and then plop it into the skillet, or drop the block of tofu in and chop it up haphazardly with a wooden spoon or spatula. Make sure it really crumbles.
  • Taste-test again and add more spices if needed. As for the turmeric, stop once you've seen that it's successfully coated the tofu. Too much turmeric is a weirdly dusty thing.

These are the main tenets of Tofu Scramble making. Follow them, and you will succeed!


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Valentine's Meal with Spaghetti and Homemade Meatballs

I'm not usually a Valentine's Day aficianado, but I'm back at home now, so I have people around me who will appreciate my efforts. For this Valentine's meal, I chose to make a pinto bean-based Meatball dish, with the meatballs shaped (as best I could!) as hearts :)  A heart-shaped chocolate cake with raspberries lining the perimeter finished the evening off, and filled us right up to our noggins. With food-knowledge. Or something.

This recipe comes from the Vegan Lunchbox blog, and has quickly become a household favorite (along with the tahini and falafel from Vegan with a Vengeance).

I warn you that the steps involved in making the meatballs may seem atrocious at first, but it's not as bad as all that. You have to start off by sauteeing some herbs, onion, and mushrooms, and then mix in your mashed-up pinto beans, shaping these into balls (or hearts), and pan-frying them. The next step made me indignant at first (more dishes to wash?!) but is so worth it, and doesn't really result in that much more cleaning after the meal.

While pan-frying the vegan balls, heat a jar's worth of tomato sauce in a tall ceramic casserole dish (in the oven). Once both processes are finished, pull out the dish of sauce, plop the balls in, and set them back in the oven for 20 minutes. It doesn't need longer than that. The balls won't stay together perfectly, but they're not really meant to -- they're meant for eating!!

Serve the meal in the casserole dish, on the table, with the oven mit. Dive in! Fed my hungry family of 3 for about 3 days. Mmmmm...

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Vegan Pizzas and Quesadillas

I am always confused by baking in England. I walk into a kitchen and ask for the tablespoons, and I am handed an ordinary large spoon for the table. Similarly, requests for a teaspoon are frequently met with being handed an actual, normal tea spoon.

Nevertheless, I like to keep my spirits up by defying the odds. So, I recently decided to make two recipes I knew wouldn't fail, regardless of the kitchen limitations I faced. These were: pizza and quesadillas.

The dough for the pizza is adaptable enough to withstand slight changes in sugar and salt levels between each making, and the quesadillas require no dough at all! I went out and bought tortillas for those little buggers, and I'm pleased to say they were quick and required no measuring at all.

Pizza Dough:

Adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance

1 Cup lukewarm water (8 oz)
1-2 Tbsp sugar
1 packet of yeast
3 Cups self-rising flour (or 3 Cups plain flour + 1 tsp salt)
2 Tbsp olive oil

Begin by dissolving the sugar in the water, then add the yeast and let the concoction sit for 10 minutes until it bubbles and foams. Add the flour and oil in a large bowl, and once the yeast/sugar/water mixture is done, pour that in. Mix until combined, and then knead for 10 minutes. If the dough is too floury, add small bits to your hands and to the dough itself, but be sure not to over-flour. If the dough gets too tough, kneading and shaping will become difficult for you.

Form the dough into a ball, fill the bowl with 2 Tbsp oil and roll the dough ball around until its entire surface area is coated in the oil. Cover with clingwrap or a towel for an hour.

After an hour, punch the dough and knead for 1 minute. Cover it again and let it rise for somewhere between 30 min - an hour. When the dough has risen again, cut it in half to form two chunks, and start shaping those chunks as you please. We made rectangular pizzas, but you may choose to make circular or hexagonal pizzas! Be careful not to let the dough rip.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F or so (200 C). You should really cook the pizzas at 500 F (250 C), but I never get the centers cooked enough, so I like to start off low and turn up the temperature for the last few minutes to crisp it up.

Layer your pizza with 3 - 4 Tbsp of tomato sauce. Make sure it's not too thick, or the pizza will be soggy. It's okay to have semi-bare spots. Then layer on your nutritional yeast, vegan cheese (homemade or store-bought -- we used Tofutti mozzarella  but have used Cheezly mozzarella in the past), veggies, and herbs. Drizzle the top with 1 Tbsp olive oil so that the veggies won't dry up, and use your finger to dab olive oil along the crust edges. Mmm.

Cook for 10 - 12 minutes, then increase heat to 500 F (250 C) for another 3 - 5 minutes. Modify as you see fit.


We didn't know what we were doing, so we basically made it up. Upon reading food blogs since then, I think we did okay. My partner had never had quesadillas before and didn't even really know what they were, so we figured this whole thing out together. (Note: we both loved them!). We used store-bought cheese and nutritional yeast to get the flavor right, and to stick the tortillas together once folded over, and filled these babies with homemade soy mince crumbles.

Serves: 2 half-quesadillas, or 1 extra-large quesadilla

2 flour tortillas (extra-large!)
a little oil

divide all of the following in half, one for each quesadilla:

1 block vegan cheese (we used Tofutti Mozzarella)
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
    * 1 red bell pepper
    * 4 very large button mushrooms 
    * 1/2 onion, chopped coarsely
    * handful of spinach leaves, torn up haphazardly into small pieces
1 Cup vegan mince


1 Cup hot water
1 bouillon cube (vegetable broth)
1 Cup soya mince / textured vegetable protein (TVP) / textured soy protein

1/2 onion, minced finely
1 - 2 tsp olive oil
1/2 - 1 tsp red chili flakes (mm!)
1 - 2 Tbsp tomato sauce
* dash of soy sauce (optional)

Heat the water and add the bouillon cube. Mix and let dissolve. Once dissolved, add the dried mince / TVP and let the whole thing sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil into a large pan with sides and add the onions. Once the onions start to soften, add the chili flakes. Stir for a minute or so, and then add the damp TVP mixture and integrate everything. Once cooked through, add some soy sauce if you'd like, and add the tomato sauce. Let any extra liquids boil off, but make sure to keep the mince from burning.

Finally, begin to assemble your first quesadillas. Place a dollop of oil in a large frying pan, and swirl it around. Heat the tortilla on medium heat, trying to elevate one side (you'll be folding this tortilla in half, and you don't want it to crack!). I rested half the tortilla edge on one of the lips/sides of the pan. Then start topping your tortilla: add half of the cheese and nutritional yeast you're going to be using for this tortilla (so, that's a quarter of the total cheese amount you have). Layer on your veggies, and top with your mince. Finally, put your other half of cheese on the very top, and flip the unused, less-heated half of the tortilla over the whole thing. You should have a nice semi-circle now. Let the quesadilla cook for 2 - 3 minutes, and then flip it over if you can. Let the other side cook for about a minute, and then serve.

Repeat for the second tortilla / quesadilla. 

Alternatively, if you have a large enough pan, you can simply put one tortilla down, top it with everything you want, and then put the second tortilla on top. Presto! The whole thing is done, no flipping or heat-avoiding necessary.

And there you have it! Several cheesy, tomato-y, yummy meals for two, and almost all with the exact same ingredients. Very little time needed to prepare, besides a few minutes kneading the dough, and the time it takes to fix up the pizzas and quesadillas with toppings. Nice, right? Enjoy!

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