Sunday, November 30, 2008

option: caramel

Part of this month's Daring Baker's challenge included optional caramels. I knew I wanted to make the cake, and whipped that out much earlier this month. Since I looooooove homemade caramels, but have never made them myself before, I did decide, very late in the month, that I would give them a try. Too late to really include them in my post, but still, here are my vegan caramels:
Simple enough to veganize -- Earth Balance instead of butter, coconut milk instead of heavy cream.

Method, however, was a bit more challenging. It took me three batches of caramel, mountains of sugar and golden syrup (at six bucks a jar!!! gasp!), a new silicone baking pan, confectionery waxed paper (at $8 a pack,) loads of sticky dishes, and one very sticky stove, to get these right. An expensive and time-consuming adventure, more than anything else! I hate to say it, but towards the end, I wasn't really having fun any more -- my frustration was taking over, especially when I wrecked my $20 cheese knife when cutting them. Grr.

Verdict, however? The caramels are AWESOME. Awesome, I say. Perhaps worth all that work? Perhaps not . . . but it's easy to forget how frustrating they were with a toasty, sugary, sticky, salty blob of goodness rotting your teeth away! :)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge -- Caramel Cake


This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a recipe for Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting, developed by Shuna Fish Lydon.


I took it upon myself to be extra-daring, and veganized the cake and frosting recipe. I followed the original recipe as closely as possible, making a few changes:
~ Earth Balance buttery sticks instead of butter
~ omiting salt in the recipes (since EB has plenty of salt)
~ 1 tablespoon EnerG egg replacer whipped with 4 tablespoons water instead of eggs
~ 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar added to the batter for extra lift
~ increasing the baking powder to 1 teaspoon, also for extra lift
~ almond milk instead of dairy milk (or cream called for in the frosting)

A fun cake -- something different from the usual chocolate and vanilla cakes! I'm glad I only make a half-batch of the frosting, because it is VERY sweet -- almost too sweet for me. I was only able to enjoy a small piece of this cake before going on complete sugar-overload!

Since I'm not much of a cake lover, I managed to pawn most of this cake off on coworkers, my boyfriend, and friends. It was well-received by all! (And of course, no one could believe it was vegan!)


This month's hosts:
and Natalie.
Thanks for the challenge!

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like . . .

Sometimes, all you need to get the tree up is a swift kick in the pants . . . or plans with a friend who's excited to help!

Thanks, Courtney! It looks great!

(P.S. Yes, those are presents under the tree already . . . I haven't done ANY shopping yet, but my parents dropped off Dan's and my gifts yesterday, since we won't see them again until mid-January! Just thought I'd clarify.)

(P.P.S. Oliver's more excited about the tree than I am.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Turkey-Free Day!

My parents decided to drive up from Milwaukee for Thanksgiving, because they were all concerned that I'd be spending the day alone. (I was okay with my original plan, but their visit gave me an excuse for an all-out cooking extravaganza! Plus, you know, nice to see them, all that.) So, we went grocery shopping Wednesday night after they got into town for some "raw materials." I provided the labor, and we had one helluva fantastic (vegan) Thanksgiving Dinner today!
Steamed green beans with lemon, Earth Balance, salt, and sliced almonds, stuffed squash (based on Urban Vegan's guidelines,) sweet potato casserole (based on a Cooking Light recipe,) corn casserole (based on a VCON recipe,) and cranberry chutney (tucked away in the freezer from two weekends ago.) Not pictured: tofu pumpkin pie for dessert!

My mom kept exclaiming how good everything was, and she wants me to send her the sweet potato and corn recipes. My dad just kept eating. :) It was a great meal!

Happy Turkey-Free Day! Hope you all enjoyed good food and good company!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

way, WAY . . .

We took the kids in our class out for a walk today, which we typically do on Tuesdays. We decided to "sneak" up to the 50th floor of the IDS Building, which is the tallest building in Minnesota, and peek out the windows. (There is no observation room/deck in the IDS Building, so there are big signs everywhere reminding people NOT to come up and look around. Annoying, eh?) The kids had a lot of fun, and were pretty awe-struck at the view of the city (and the tiny cars, schoolbusses, etc.)

Anyhow, at pickup time, I asked one little boy today if he remembered where we went on our walk so he could tell his mom about it. He replied,

"We went in the skyways and we took the elevator way, WAY up high to the sky!"


Saturday, November 22, 2008


I feel like I'm "fridge-diving" these days -- scraping together odds and ends to make somewhat nutritious meals! I seem to have a plethora of mushrooms left around, but not much else in the fresh produce department, so be prepared for many mushrooms in the coming week. :) Tonight's dinner was no exception:
Whole-wheat pasta with mushrooms and green peas, in a creamy garlic-parmesan sauce. Again, no measuring, totally made-up kind of dinner. (And it was great!)

I leave you with my cat, snuggling with the computer:

Friday, November 21, 2008

magic soup?

I believe I am coming down with a cold. (It's amazing what a couple of nights crappy sleep will do to an immune system that is assaulted by germs all day long!) What do I do? Take my vitamin, and make soup:
Ingredients: canola oil, onion, garlic, celery, carrots, dried thyme, dried rosemary (crushed,) pepper, salt, vegetable broth, diced seitan, frozen peas, and soba noodles, broken into fourths.

Dan's out of town this weekend, so I'll have to take this down all by myself. I think I'll manage. (I'm already thinking about a second bowlful.) Let's hope this is magic soup, and I'll wake up all better tomorrow morning!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seven Random Things

Yes, I'm a sucker for memes. Liz tagged me for Seven Random Things. Here I go:

1. I have a completely irrational fear of city squirrels. They creeeeeeeep me out when they come too close! They are just weird and twitchy and too friendly for my liking. Ish. (This is coming from a girl who once held a dozen slugs in her hand. So I'm not easily creeped out or anything.) I do like the sweet, small red squirrels that live in northern MN, however -- they are cute, and also know how to maintain a safe distance. :)

2. I am obsessed with ginger. Like, obsessed. Ginger candy, ginger cookies, ginger tea, ginger-based soups, ginger ice cream, etc. If you catch me knawing on a hunk of fresh ginger, promise me you'll slap me upside the head!

3. I have had three favorite colors in my life. When I was small, I liked pink. Somewhere around middle school, my favorite color abruptly switched to blue. Blue persisted until a couple of years ago, when it slowly morphed into green. Strange!

4. I took a dozen years of piano lessons growing up, but have barely played since high school. In fact, I struggle reading bass clef these days! Travesty! I hope to someday own a piano, and can get back to playing.

5. I love driving, I like cars, but I hated owning one. So I donated my car a couple of years ago, and haven't looked back. I hope a LONG time passes before I have to own a car again!

6. I haven't worn makeup in over two years. A couple of weeks ago, I went through my medicine cabinet and finally threw it all away!! It was very liberating. :)

7. I have a weakness for soft, fuzzy, cute pajamas. Especially pajamas with stripes, polka-dots, or critters of any sort. (Except squirrels, obviously -- refer back to #1.)

Hope that was random enough!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

pre-Thanksgiving and lots of other food!

I took the day off from work this past Friday -- I have desperately been needing a quiet, stay-at-home, relaxing kind of long weekend! Of course, practically all I did all weekend long was cook (and wash dishes.)

Lunch Friday:
I had saved a recipe for Asian Hot Pot from an old issue of Real Simple magazine, and it took me practically two years to try it out! Looking at the recipe, 2/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce seemed like WAY too much, so I cut it down to 1/2 cup. Next time I'll cut down even further -- the soup was still just a wee bit too salty for me! Dan slurped up two or three bowlfuls, however. (He's a salt fanatic.)

Dinner Friday Night:
Vegan pre-Thanksgiving! I am so disappointed that Dan will be out of town Thanksgiving weekend, and decided to overcome my disappointment by cooking us a pre-Thanksgiving meal of our own! Urban Vegan inspired me to make stuffed squash as our entree. I eyeballed the stuffing, using her first list of suggestions, and it was FANTASTIC!!! Definitely the best part of the meal, in my opinion. :) I rounded out the meal with garlic mashed potatoes and the fastest gravy in the (Mid)west, steamed brussels sprouts with melted Earth Balance, garlic salt, and pepper, and a cranberry chutney recipe I saved out of the latest issue of Vegetarian Times. What a meal! Dan and I were both SOOOOO full . . . but the best part was, everything was so flavorful but came together pretty quickly! I made the cranberry chutney Thursday night, roasted the squash, prepped the sprouts, and made dessert (coming next) Friday morning, then pulled everything together in about an hour Friday night!

pre-Thanksgiving dessert?
A big, fat bomb, if you ask me. Dan hates pumpkin pie, so I decided to try a recipe for Double-Ginger Pumpkin Flan from Cooking Light. My review of this recipe? BLECH. The "flan" was mushy and not at all custard-like, the recipe took a ton of prep and additional steps I don't think are needed for a baked custard, I tasted NO ginger flavor (despite the "double" term in the recipe title,) and the custards stuck furiously to the cups and did not produce a lovely caramel sauce expected with flan/caramel custard. Should have just made a tofu pumpkin pie!! Now I know for next year, eh?

I had brunch plans with Courtney Saturday late morning, so I didn't have an opportunity to cook again until Saturday night:
Fajitas!!! WOOO! I typically marinade a package of tempeh, sliced, and a slew of peppers and red onions for at least eight hours before pan-frying in my cast-iron skillet. Served the fajitas this time on spelt tortillas from the co-op, topped with diced tomato, lettuce, guac, crumbled queso fresco, and light sour cream. MMMMMMMMMMMMM.

I also baked Saturday night, which turned into breakfast today:
I took another stab at pumpkin cinnamon rolls after my original failure a couple of weeks ago, with one major change this time . . . I used mashed banana in place of the pumpkin!! Banana cinnamon rolls are JUST as good as pumpkin cinnamon rolls, I think! Glad to know I have one more option when faced with a pile of overripe bananas!

Lastly, lunch today:
I vegetized a recipe for Cream of Turkey Wild Rice Soup, using vegetable broth and diced seitan in place of the chicken broth and turkey called for in the original recipe. This soup could even be veganized by using Tofutti mock sour cream!! The soup was quick and easy, (especially since I made the seitan and cooked the wild rice yesterday,) and extreeeeeemely delicious. Next time, I think I'll cut the amount of diced seitan down to two cups, and increase the veggies, just so I can eat more than one small bowlful before feeling completely stuffed!! :)

Off to meet my friend Ann for a walk . . . I've had one too many cinnamon rolls this weekend, I think! :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Barney Butter!

Awhile back, after I posted about my boss's recent dietary restrictions, Jennifer Barney of Barney Butter fame contacted me to offer each my boss and I a FREE jar of Barney Butter -- she hoped since my boss was unable to eat so many of her former favorite things, that offering her something new to try would allow her to fall in love with a new product! What a kind and generous thing to do!

I FINALLY got around to cracking open my jar of Barney Butter this morning:
I must be honest -- I've never fallen for almond butter in the past. (It has always seemed very "dry" or "pasty" to me.) Regardless, I toasted a bagel and gave the Crunchy Barney Butter a healthy test-drive:
Verdict? This is some damn fine nut butter! Can you see the size of those "crunches??" And no more dry, pasty mouthfeel -- the Barneys add a little evaporated cane juice, a little palm fruit oil, and a little salt, which significantly improves both texture and flavor, in my opinion. (These additions also make the nut butter shelf-stable and no-stir!) Almonds are also higher in calcium and iron than peanuts, and lower in saturated fat, so Barney Butter is even a healthier choice, too!

My ONLY gripe would be that it isn't organic -- almond trees tend to be heavily sprayed, and it's recommended that if one enjoys almonds every day, to choose organic ones. Maybe the Barneys will come out with an organic variety soon????

I haven't seen Barney Butter carried on store shelves locally, but I'll have to work on my co-op and see if they'll bring it in. :)

Lastly, Barney Butter is processed in an almond-only facility, so it's safe for those with severe peanut allergies! How can you go wrong?

Thank you, Jennifer, for offering both my boss and I a try of your awesome product!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

a tofu kind of weekend

I must have been craving tofu earlier in the week, when I planned our meals for this weekend. (Not a terrible thing to crave, in the end!)

Dinner Saturday night:
Curried Tofu from VCON, (baked in the oven this time instead of pan-frying -- and I definitely prefer the pan-fry method,) garlicky kale with balsamic vinegar, sliced fresh tomato, and garlic mashed potatoes with gravy.

Easiest veg gravy on the planet? Heat 1 tablespoon Earth Balance in a small saucepan until spattery. Whisk in 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour. Continue whisking and cooking until your roux turns a dark golden brown color. Whisk in 1 cup vegetable broth, and cook until thick. Salt and pepper to taste, and voila!

I hate to admit it, but I may never make Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy again. Sorry, Isa.

Dinner tonight:
Thai curry based on somebody's blog, based on a Cooking Light recipe. I added a wee bit of agave (because, in my opinion, Thai food should be sweet, salty, spicy, and sour all at the same time,) and a big spoonfull of peanut butter. Because all coconut curries need MORE fat, right?? We both also dribbled on a considerable amount of sriracha at the table.

I look forward to a four-day work week this week!! Woot for Fridays off!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I'm a hypocrite?

The kids at work have already started talking about Christmas, and my coteachers and I have been on their case . . . "let's get through Thanksgiving first, before we start talking about Christmas!!"

Well, I'm kind of a hypocrite. Why? I'm already jazzed about Christmas cookie baking. I think I've already decided which types of cookies I'm going to make this year:

Candied Hazelnut Brittle
Lemon Rosemary Butter Cookies
Mexican Chocolate Cookies
Pistachio-Cherry Sandwich Cookies (I think from the most recent issue of VT . . . can't find it on the web yet . . . they tend to dawdle in that department!)
Yummy Molasses Crackles
and, my grandma's butter cookies with peppermint frosting, of course.

I am trying for a combination of different flavors (chocolate, lemon, fruit, mint, spice, nut, etc.,) appearances (a variety of colors/textures on the cookie plate,) and a mix of fancy flavors and comfortable favorites.

What do you think?

What are your holiday baking plans this year?

this week's grocery list

I hit the co-op after work today -- I was lazy and didn't take a picture, though. Considering I've been slacking in the grocery-shopping-reporting department these past few weeks, posting the list is better than nothing, if you ask me!! I'll shoot for a picture next week. :)

local spelt flax sandwich bread

local, organic, whole-wheat pastry flour

local sharp cheddar cheese

local, organic curry powder
whole, organic nutmeg
dried kava kava

organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup
Panda black licorice bar
organic lite coconut milk
1 roll Seventh Generation TP

organic bananas
organic hachiya persimmon
local, organic dinosaur kale
local, organic cilantro
local, organic cremini mushrooms
organic green onions
organic red bell pepper
local, organic yellow potatoes
local hydroponic tomatoes

organic superfirm tofu
Naked Juice "Protein Zone" smoothie


43% of my purchase this week was local!! WOOO!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

candlelight vigil


Monday, November 03, 2008

another civic duty

I bet you've all received a billion phone calls from various political parties reminding you to vote tomorrow, so I'm not going to do that!

I am, however, going to encourage you to do something else, in addition to voting. When you vote tomorrow, take a young person with you -- your child, grandchild, neice, nephew, cousin, neighbor, etc. Teach them the importance of our civic duty.

How important do I think this is?

Instead of taking one young person with me to vote tomorrow, I am going to take ten young people with me. We typically take our class on walks on Tuesdays anyway, so we are going to walk them over to the closest polling place, (which happens to be where I vote,) and they are going to get to see where "Miss Catherine" voted, and we'll introduce some new vocabulary words (like "ballot,") and then we'll all get "I VOTED" stickers!

Help raise another generation of voters, folks!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

lunch & dinner

Lunch today:
I made a quick stir-fry of marinaded tofu (ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, tamari, toasted sesame oil, dried crushed chili, and a splash of water,) bok choy, kohlrabi, red pepper, cremini mushroom, and green onion. I whisked a little cornstarch into the leftover marinade and let that thicken for the sauce. Served alongside brown rice. A good, healthy meal -- and I'm not usually a fan of stir-fry!

I had been wondering about kohlrabi's nutritional profile all day long. Now I know! (And if you click on the link, you can know, too!) Vegetables are awesome.

Dinner tonight:
I threw Tofu Mom's Pumpkin Lentil Stew in the Crock Pot while I was prepping lunch today, and it cooked away all afternoon. A filling, satisfying dinner! (I made a couple of teensie changes -- I used a 28 ounce can of crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes, since I wasn't sure how large a can she used in her original recipe, and I added an extra half-cup of lentils and cup of broth for more belly-filling protein and fiber.) On the side, I veganized Cooking Light's Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits by using Earth Balance instead of butter and almond milk mixed with about two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar for the buttermilk. FAN-TASTIC!! These biscuits were fluffy, flaky, tender, and slightly sweet from the (technically non-vegan) honey called for in the original recipe. MMMMMMMMM . . . I'm so glad I have leftovers to toast for breakfasts this week!

Despite all of this yummy food, I feel a little bit sad-faced this evening -- the "Sunday Night Blues" stink, I tell ya! I sort of want to drown my sorrows in a baking project, but I still have chocolate-coconut-almond cookies around, plus the biscuits I just made tonight. I'll have to restrain myself from mucking up the kitchen yet again today, and wait until I munch through the goodies I have around, I guess!

half of last night's dinner

I forgot to take a picture of dinner last night until after I was halfway through eating:
Even though my food is half-gone, I bet the cheesy deliciousness still comes through. :) I made "Six-Cheese Gnocchi Parmesan" from the most recent issue of Vegetarian Times. (I'd link the recipe but I don't think it's up on their website yet!) Ooey-gooey, cheesy comfort food -- like lasagna, but better. (And easier to prepare!)

This recipe could even be veganized by using a favorite tofu or cashew ricotta, plus shredded vegan mozzarella!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

baking disaster, plus redeemable dinner

I worked on making Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls earlier this week, and have just now gotten around to posting about them.
Don't they look absolutely to-die-for??? They could have been, if I hadn't completely effed them up. (What happened, you ask?)

Well, I realized after the rolls were in the oven that I didn't actually have any powdered sugar in the house. Disaster!! But, I used my noodle and remembered long ago reading that you could grind regular sugar with a little cornstarch to make your own powdered sugar. So, I added some natural granulated sugar and a wee bit of cornstarch to my coffee grinder, and blitzed the heck out of it. Success! I had powdered sugar.

Or so I thought . . . I made the glaze, and it looked innocent enough. I glazed the rolls. I pulled two out of the pan and took the above picture. I took a bite . . . they tasted amazing for about two seconds, until this awful, metallic aftertaste took over. I was really confused -- what happened? I smelled the powdered sugar to discover it had the most awful, burned-metal smell. The coffee grinder must have overheated while grinding. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! I had to throw out the whole batch.

But, not to worry -- I promise I will make them again. :) Because now the craving for pumpkin cinnamon rolls is worse than ever!!

I redeemed my culinary prowess last night with dinner, however:
I made pho! This was so fragrant, clean, healthy, and delicious. Just what I needed after a long day of Mr. Dennis's taco salad (delicious, but NOT healthy,) and too much Halloween candy. I followed the recipe pretty much as written, except I used regular tofu, not Asian-flavored baked tofu (those pre-packed tofus always taste WEIRD to me,) and the co-op didn't have bean sprouts on Thursday when I went shopping, so the always-helpful produce guy recommended substituting julienned bok choy, which is what I used. (We also added more tamari at the table, since it didn't seem salty enough.) Dan and I had two huge bowlfuls each for dinner last night -- it was such a fun, slurpy dinner!

I have a few more cooking projects planned for this weekend . . . stay tuned!