Sunday, August 31, 2008

First Daring Baker's Challenge - SUCCESS!

I've become a Daring Baker!! Woo! And not just any Daring Baker, mind you . . . an alternative Daring Baker. Why? Because I thought I'd continue to try my hand at some vegan baking!

This month's challenge? Eclairs!
Now, since the challenge recipe contained major quantities of butter, eggs, whole milk, and heavy cream, I had to do a little searching and editing on my own. :)

I used this recipe, but with the following modifications:
~ I used 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, instead of 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
~ I used the dough hooks on my hand mixer to beat the dough, since during my first failed attempt, the dough kept wrapping around/up my beaters, clogging everything up.
~ I baked the eclairs at 400 for 20 minutes, at 350 for 20 minutes, and then propped the oven door open and let them cool slowly for 20 minutes.

I used the pastry cream recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking. This would have worked out fine the first time 'round, if I hadn't mismeasured the cornstarch! (Whoops.)

I used the glaze recipe given in the challenge, subbing soy creamer for the dairy. The chocolate sauce did not thicken up at all, and the glaze was drippy/runny at room temperature. So, I whisked in 2 teaspoons of cornstarch and cooked the glaze again, until it was thick and glossy. It tastes and looks great, but didn't "set" until refrigerated. If I were to make this again, I would cut the water in the sauce WAY down, or just use an altogether different glaze recipe. (However, I wanted to try at least one component of the original recipe, since we are supposed to stick as close to the challenge recipe as possible!)

I wasn't sure at first that vegan eclairs could exist . . . but lo and behold, I made them in my very own kitchen!! The choux dough was a little tough at first, but softened after a night in the fridge, filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate glaze. The eclairs were DELICIOUS, and I ate them all myself. :)

Want to see more Daring eclairs? See the link over on the right.

I can't WAIT to find out what the September challenge will be!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

flogging, out and about

today . . .

coffee with almond milk and agave
homemade granola with almond milk

Naked Juice "Green Machine" smoothie

LUNCH (at The Bad Waitress):
veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with ketchup, lettuce, tomato, onion, and swiss cheese
corn chips

DINNER (at Dan's parents' house!):
two mini ciabatta with butter
an ear of sweet corn with butter and salt
a mountain of grilled vegetables!

two pieces of baklava
slice of havarti cheese (stolen from Dan's plate)

Sorry for the lack of pictures today . . . I'm away from my home computer, forgot to take a picture of lunch, and didn't want to be weird at dinner! Back to normal by Sunday night, for certain. :)

Happy long weekend, everybody!

Friday, August 29, 2008

a long day's FLOG

I have a longer day of work today, so I'll be eating breakfast, lunch, and my mid-afternoon snack at work. Here's what I'm packing:

Today's FLOG:

black coffee
homemade granola (soymilk to be added at work)

2 slices of cheese pizza with the kids(our cook is off today, so our assistant director ordered pizza so the kids can have a Friday pizza party!)
salad (see above)
4 Lorna Doone cookies
glass of soymilk

I never ate my tabouli and olives, pictured above. Bummer! However, I did eat a sugar-free popsicle with the kids . . . a fun birthday treat from one of our little ones who just turned 4! However, by the time I finished my popsicle, I had no time left to eat my tabouli -- the kids were ready to go OUTSIDE! So, the tabouli ended up getting ignored. Sorry, tabouli.

Out for Dan's mom's birthday:
They brought us an "amuse bouche," which was a cracker with a bleu cheese, apple, and pecan relish, and also a bread basket -- I ate plenty of (pretty good!) baguette with roasted garlic spread to start. The amuse bouche was also very tasty!
I ordered their pasta special, which was penne with mushrooms, eggplant, summer squash, herbs, and heirloom tomatoes. It was okay -- good, but there was so much oil, it kind of hid the taste of all of those delicate summer veggies! Alas. However, the ambiance and great company made up for the mediocre pasta.

Happy Birthday, Sandy!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

baklava to go, FLOG

Here's most of the baklava, packed up and ready to go to work:
Pardon the plastic wrap -- I forgot to snap a photo until after I wrapped it up!


FLOG for today, so far:
black coffee, and:
the last of the baguette, toasted, one piece with Earth Balance and one with peanut butter, and a smoothie containing peaches, pineapple, agave, and almond milk.

a bunch of green grapes

Leftover spinach pie, leftover tabouli, and baklava for lunch, and some homemade granola for snack. Soymilk to be added at work.

And, I also had a piece of banana bread with the kids at snack.

Watermelon and almonds. I really wanted an apple with peanut butter, but alas, watermelon is the only fruit I currently have in my house! Bah.

Leftover Thai soup. Still just as tasty, and the cilantro and green onions were still bright and crisp, which hardly ever happens when I add them to the soup right away! A pleasant mystery.

crackers, hummus, and herbal tea.

Bonne nuit, mes amis!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

baking project? check.

Just completed my baking project for the evening:
Yes, baklava. What else was I supposed to do with all that leftover filo?? :) Plus, you know you want to make some -- I promise it's easy. There are really only two tricks to working with filo:
1. Make sure the dough is completely thawed before you try to unroll it, otherwise it will crack and split into a million little pieces. (I give it at least 24 hours in the fridge to thaw completely.)
2. Cover the filo with a slightly damp towel while you are working with it, so it doesn't dry out.
And that's the magic! If you can make lasagna, you can make baklava.

1 lb filo dough, thawed
3/4 lb finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
3 to 4 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) vegan butter, melted
2 additonal cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tbsp lemon juice

1. Combine walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, and 3 to 4 tbsp sugar.
2. Brush bottom and sides of 9X13 pan with butter. Layer 3 sheets filo, buttering each. Follow with a fine layer of nut mixture, and 2 filo, buttering the top sheet. Continue layering nuts and 2 filo, buttering the tops, until you run out of nuts. Finish with 3 sheets filo, buttering each.
3. Cut baklava into diamonds and bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.
4. While baklava is in the oven, combine 2 cups sugar, water, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook syrup for 5 mintues. Cool.
5. Pour syrup over hot baklava. Allow to cool to room temperature while syrup absorbs.

Most of the baklava will head into work tomorrow for a coworker's last day. She is taking a new position as a director of a child care center! We'll miss her, but what a great opportunity for her!

let the FLOG-ging begin!

I've decided to start FLOG-ging for a little while. Why? Because I have been eating SO MUCH JUNK at work these days, it's getting a little ridiculous. And I don't need all of that processed food! So, I can't promise how long the flogging will last, and I definitely can't promise pictures of everything, (how does Leng do it???), but I will do my best. Here's today:

two pieces toasted baguette with Earth Balance
a cup of black coffee
Frozen raspberries and almond milk. Yum.

Leftover spinach pie and leftover tabouli.

cup of unsweetened red tea

3:00 SNACK:
Tomato salad . . . parfait?
(I seem to have run out of normal containers. Peanut butter jars work in a pinch?)
Not pictured: small handfull corn chips with the kids

blue corn tortilla chips with cheese, tomatoes, and homemade guacamole; broccoli with a little Earth Balance and a pinch of salt:
and pie for dessert:

bite-sized piece of baklava
mug of ginger tea (unsweetened)

Baking project planned for tonight . . . until then!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

can't . . . stop . . . cooking . . .

The tomatoes are almost gone, but until then . . .
. . . I continue to eat salad for breakfast.

Lunch was a repeat from Sunday -- portobello mushroom sandwich, corn, potato salad, and watermelon. Still just as delicious! (No photo -- I was too hungry to wait!)

Dinner tonight was Thai soup with coconut and lemongrass:
This is a favorite of Dan's, and a frequent meal at my house. Soup feels more like fall/winter food to me, but I found lemongrass at the Farmer's Market and, well, I just had to make some soup. :) There's tons of lemongrass leftover, which I minced up and stuck in the freezer. Has anybody else had success with freezing lemongrass? It's so expensive from the grocery store, I don't want to waste this bunch from the Farmer's Market!

Back to work tomorrow . . . for three whole days. :) My four-day stay-at-home-weekend was WONDERFUL!

Question of the Evening:
What's your favorite thing to do with filo dough?
Me? I make a mean baklava. I have half a package of filo leftover, and I sense some buttery, flaky, spicy, nutty, sugariness in my future. (And I'll take half the pan to work, for sure!) However, I'm always open to suggestions! Ideas?

Monday, August 25, 2008

a day in the life of a food snob

Salad for breakfast is a good, good thing:

Homemade, garden-fresh, pico de gallo:
Three different kinds of tomatoes, purple bell peppers, jalapenos, green onions, (all from Dan's garden,) lime juice, cilantro, fresh garlic, and salt. A lot of chopping, but well worth it!

Nachos for lunch:
Organic blue corn tortilla chips, black beans, local, organic monterey jack cheese, loads of homemade pico, and local, organic sour cream. I restrained myself to this platefull, but Dan went back for a second helping. Not pictured: Virgil's root beer. Perfect salty meal, sweet beverage combination!

We enjoyed the rest of the pico, with a few remaining black beans mixed in, with leftover chips as a late-afternoon snack.

Vegan spanikopita and tabouli for dinner:
I made the tabouli using quinoa, since I didn't have any bulgur in the cupboard, and all the usual tabouli ingredients: tomato, cucumber, green onion, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, mint, chickpeas, and salt. I like a LOT of mint in my tabouli -- I use roughly equal parts mint and parsley. There's that fine line between minty deliciousness and toothpaste-land that I like to walk right up to, but never cross. :)

I loosely based the spanikopita on a recipe from Fine Cooking. This was "effing" amazing! I can't believe how good this was, containing no cheese! Yay for tofu vegan deliciousness! Here's what I did:
1. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large skillet. Add one very large clove of garlic, minced, and two shallots, minced, and cook until soft. Add 1 1/2 pounds spinach, roughly torn into bite-sized pieces. Cook until the spinach is almost completely wilted. Add about 3/4 cup sliced green onions, and cook until the spinach is completely wilted. Cool.
2. Smush up one 10-ounce package super-firm tofu. Add 4 tablepoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, pepper to taste, and 1 handfull whole almonds, pulsed in a food processor until very finely chopped. Mush the whole mixture together with a fork until it is well combined.
3. Add 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint, along with the spinach mixture and any liquid left in the bottom of the pan, to the tofu. Mix well.
4. Preheat your oven to 375. Melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) Earth Balance or other favorite margarine. You could also use olive oil. (Don't despair -- I was somewhat generous with my margarine brushing, and still didn't use the full stick. Plus, spanikopita just isn't health food!! If you're really worried, pick up one of those oil spray pumps and get spritzing.)
5. Open a 1-pound package of filo dough, and cut the large sheets in half. Wrap up half of the sheets to use another time. Brush the bottom and sides of a 9X13 pan with the melted margarine. Layer 8 sheets of filo in the pan, brushing the top of each sheet with margarine. Add the spinach mixture, spreading evenly. Layer the remaining filo sheets, brushing the tops of each sheet with margarine.
6. Cut the spinach pie into 9 squares. Brush the cut seams with margarine. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filo is golden brown. Allow the pie to cool until just warm before serving. (You may need to re-cut the squares before serving.)

And, there may be pie yet before bed!

Question of the evening:
What was your best meal or snack today?

My answer? That's a tough one. Everything I ate today was so fresh, delicious, and mind-blowingly awesome . . . but I think lunch had to have been my favorite. The balance between the salty nachos and the sweet root beer was soooooooo perfect!

score! bounty! harvest!

I have gone from having NO food in my house, thanks to travel last weekend and a busy work week, to having a bounty in just twenty-four hours!

I started working on remeding the food situation by making a pie Saturday night. (I had a piecrust in the freezer leftover from a previous project.) Oliver wanted to help:
As helpful as he wanted to be, I didn't want cat hair in the piecrust, so I shooed him away. Repeatedly. :)
Completed pie, fresh from the oven:
Blueberry-rhubarb with a streusel topping, all in a half-wholegrain crust.
Served up with a scoop of homemade ice cream:
The pie is DELICIOUS, vegan, but just a little bit soupy. I forgot that frozen fruit often needs a little bit more flour in the mix, and a little bit more time in the oven to thicken up. Alas. It still tastes amazing! Dan's brother was over for a short visit last night, had a piece of pie, and managed to practically lick his plate clean!

I waxed poetic about fruit pies yesterday afternoon. I think pie is just about the best dessert in the world. Why? It's sweet, but also tart, filling, but not heavy, flavorful, but not too rich, homey but not homely, and can be made extra-special just with a scoop of ice cream. Plus, hardly anyone makes pie from scratch any more, so when one does, one looks like a baking rock star!! :)

Anyhow, we continued working on the lack of food situation on Sunday morning, with a trip to the Farmer's Market first thing:
We spent about $55, but did we get a lot of stuff!
Non-local: lemons, limes, portobello mushrooms,
Local and pesticide-free: grape tomatoes, heirloom "Kellogs Breakfast" tomatoes, baby yukon gold potatoes, green onions, shallots, spinach, an orange-flesh watermelon, maple syrup, lemongrass, sweet corn, a cucumber, parsley, dill, mint, and cilantro. Also, local smoked sharp cheddar, that I forgot to add to the first photo:

And then after the farmer's market, I went to the Wedge to fill in the gaps:
two local mini-baguettes
four local wholegrain rolls
fresh mozzarella
organic filo dough
pitted kalamata olives
organic Yogi ginger tea
organic Yogi kava tea
4-pack Virgil's root beer
can coconut juice with pulp (YUM!)
two cans organic light coconut milk
box 100% whole-wheat crackers
half a pound of organic mixed baby greens
sprig local, organic basil
local, organic white button mushroms
20 oz package organic super-firm tofu
package Earth Balance buttery sticks
bottle organic, raw kombucha (a request from Dan . . . I'm a little wary of trying this!)

After all of that shopping, I was HUNGRY!! I sliced up the large Kellog's Breakfast tomato, some fresh mozzarella, and some basil, and topped it all with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil:
We soaked up the juices with a couple of mini-baguettes. Holy cow, this was the BEST lunch! The tomatoes were so fresh, juicy, and sweet -- Dan actually compared them to canned peaches, but not in a gross way. :)

Later in the afternoon, we went to visit Dan's garden!! Weeeee!!!
Yesterday's complete harvest:
Two purple bell peppers, a smallish eggplant, five hot peppers, half a cereal bowlful of sungold tomatoes, a whole cereal bowlful of currant tomatoes, a dozen romas, thirteen zebras, a big hanfull of basil, and a couple of what we think are shallots. Dan thought they were onions when he planted them, but I really think they are shallots, so the jury is still out!

I set to work with the romas, eggplant, shallots, and some garlic that I already had at home:
The beginnings of roasted tomato sauce, all drizzled with olive oil and ready to go in the oven!
After 40 minutes at 400 degrees Farenheight:
I then added a little more olive oil to a pot, sauteed some capers, chopped olives, 1/2 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes, a good squirt of tomato paste, and salt and pepper:
After the seasonings were good and happy, I added the tomatoes and other roasted veggies, the liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan, and about a cup of water to the pot. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced the heat, covered the pan partially, and let it simmer for about an hour and a half. Tomato sauce!

And, dinner last night, largely from the Farmer's Market:
Portobello mushroom sandwiches with smoked cheddar, zebra tomato, lettuce, and vegenaise, with sides of watermelon, sweet corn, and potato salad. I used a new potato salad recipe that I found in a back-issue of Fine Cooking, and I love it! Basic vinegar-based dressing, with parsley, mint, green onions, and a few chopped kalamata olives! Yum.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

update . . .

Two things:

First, there are not seven, but eight lakes in Minnesota that you cannot see across! Rainy Lake falls into that category, too.

I stand corrected!

Second, we are having to cancel our camping trip this weekend! Something's come up, and we're just going to stick around the city. The answer to the mystery question, however, was Lake Superior -- we had planned on visiting our favored north shore again. Alas . . . we will see big water and eat great food another time! (Thank you to everybody who made guesses, though!)

To close, the question of the evening:
What are your favorite "in town" activities?

Mine are, in no particular order: reading, watching movies, going for walks, going out to eat, cooking, and going to the Farmer's Market!

Let's hope I get to do ALL of those things this weekend!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Scenic State Park!

I'm back from the big woods! We had a ton of fun hiking and paying homage to some pretty big trees (and even bigger lakes -- three of the seven MN lakes that are so large you cannot see across them!) this past weekend! I'm just gonna throw the pictures up here, (with a few descriptions) -- enjoy!

Father Hennepin State Park, located on the eastern shore of Lake Mille Lacs:

A visit to the bear sanctuary, in Orr, MN (Dan used to intern here!)
(baby bears in trees!)
(I took many more photos of bears, but they are all pretty dark and blurry -- dusk is a tough time to take pictures!)

Hike near Sandwick Lake in Scenic State Park (where we camped)

Hike out to Chase Point (an esker located in Sandwick lake)

A view of Chase Point from our campground:

A cooperative bee:

The Lost 40:

By the side of the highway:
(A nice change from all that corn!)

Red Lake Reservation
The following three pictures were taken in succession, simply by turning my body 180 degrees:
Lower Red Lake:
"The Narrows" (narrow strip of water that runs between the two lakes)
Upper Red Lake:
Dinnertime beach picnic on the Lower Red Lake:
(Sorry, but the view beat out the food!)

The first campfire I've ever successfully started all by myself!

Hike out to the old fire tower at Scenic State Park:

And, one last wave at Mille Lacs on our way home:

Did you know that there are seven Minnesota lakes that are so large you cannot see across them? I have visited three this past weekend, (Lake Mille Lacs, Upper Red Lake, Lower Red Lake,) and plan to visit another next weekend! Where will we go next?? Make a guess:
Leech Lake
Lake Superior
Lake Winnibigoshish
Lake of the Woods

I'll offer up a fabulous prize for the first correct guess . . . !!!