Monday, January 30, 2012

On Valentine's Day Have Cake for Breakfast!

     When Cara over at Fork and Beans announced her vegan gluten-free baking competition, I thought,  "Oh... that's nice..."  Then she requested I enter and behold, I was terrified.  (I love you Cara, seriously, I do, but baking is hard, vegan baking is harder, gluten-free baking is even harder and the "make up your own recipe" thing just totally broke my mind for like a week...)  I suggested heart shaped ice as my recipe.  At one point (while my first trial was baking in the oven) I was still seriously considering it as an option...

     While I was trying to come up with an idea, I ruled out a simple sauté dish right away because, well (besides the fact that it's not baking) it hardly counts as gluten-free unless it would normally have gluten in it, right?  But for a recipe to be truly mine, it needed to be something using local in-season ingredients and it needed to be relatively healthy.  I didn't want to use any chemicals which unfortunately seem to play a large part in commercial gluten-free products.   Xanthan gum in particular is a big one on my "That Just Ain't Natural" list that seems to be in even organic and all natural gluten-free products.

     I live in Washington State.  Things that are local, in-season, and bakeable are precisely: apples (from storage) and Winter squash (from storage).  Ayup.  No sweet little red strawberries, forget about a gorgeous pink raspberry, and watermelon is right out.  So I thought, "Well, what about a butternut squash cake with vegan cream cheese frosting sweetened with maple syrup?"  And that, my friends is what I endeavored to create.  At one point I found a very similar sounding recipe on Gluten-Free Goddess, but hers called for a lot of ingredients I didn't have and it also had eggs in it.  I referenced it a little for ratios, but ultimately came up with a very different recipe.

     The whole "cake" thing didn't really work out.  It ended up as an awesome breakfast bread that we Can't.  Stop.  Eating.  Besides the butternut squash, the hazelnuts are local to us and Bob's Red Mill is technically considered local too I guess, coming from Oregon, though it feels a little like cheating...

Vegan and Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Bread
1/2 C coconut oil (still solid)
1 C Sucanat
1/2 C silken tofu purée
2 T cornstarch combined with 2 T water
1/4 C blackstrap molasses
1 1/4 C butternut squash purée
2 C Bob's Red Mill All Purpose GF Baking Flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 C chopped hazelnuts
Optional:  You can substitute 1/4 butternut squash with 1/4 C banana purée.  It makes it taste like banana bread.  My hubby prefers it this way.

If you don't just happen to have a bunch of butternut squash purée laying around, cut one in half, roast each piece, cut side down, at 450° for about an hour.  Then peel when cool and purée.  I did this step a few days ahead.  You can also microwave butternut squash in a similar fashion in about 10-15 minutes.  If you make the squash the same day you bake your bread you can also purée the tofu and banana while the squash is cooking.  The blender worked great for the tofu while I managed to get a great banana purée from my mini food processor.

Once you have your purées, pre-heat oven to 350°.  Grease a loaf pan with coconut oil and dust with BRM flour.  Set aside.   In a large mixing bowl, combine coconut oil and Sucanat using the high speed of your mixer until very well combined.  Add the banana purée (if using), tofu purée and cornstarch mixture and mix everything well.  Mix in molasses and squash purée.   Once you have all the wet ingredients mixed with the sugar, begin combining the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  This will give the Sucanat a little time to dissolve. Slowly begin adding flour mixture to the wet mixture about 1/4 at a time.  Add hazelnuts, and mix until just combined.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

     The result is a warm and comforting moist bread that is perfect just out of the oven for breakfast with a little butter (or whatever substitute you like).  As it cools, it's not as good, but that's nothing a few seconds in the microwave can't cure...  But since this is a Valentine's Day Contest, why not kick it into pretty pink dessert mode with a little pink frosting?

2 C powdered sugar
1/2 C Tofutti cream cheese
2 T pure maple syrup
4-5 drops natural food coloring

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and beat til combined.

I feel the same way about Tofutti cream cheese as I do about mascarpone cheese: It should never be eaten by any human ever unless it's full of confectioner's sugar and resting on top of a cake.  Then it's happiness on a fork.  The natural food coloring I use has beets in it, which gives the frosting a slightly fruity flavor.  I like it. Technically, the powdered sugar I used isn't vegan.  If you're being really careful,  The Vegan Chef has a recipe for DIY vegan powered sugar.

 Isn't that just pretty like a Valentine Princess?

     I hope you all have a lovely Valentine's Day no matter how you start it out.  February 6th is the deadline so there's still time to enter the contest!  It really is much less complicated than it seems!  And three winners receive $75 gift cards to their favorite store!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

SnOwPoCaLyPsE 2012!!! WOooOooooOOooo...

And so it began... dun dun duuuuuunnnn...

 First it "srained."  (My friend Robin informs me it's called "slushing")

Then it snowed...

 And it snowed...

And it snowed...

 And it freezing rained and then snowed...

And it was pretty...  So very pretty...

And then the power went out...

And then it came back on...

Snowmen were made...

Roads were sledified...
Driveways were sledified...

And much, much, hot chocolate was consumed.

Part of the "driveways were sledified" business meant that we were totally 100% housebound for most of the week.  And that meant no running to the store for milk.  For the first couple of days we had a packet or two of really, really old, mostly petrified, sugar-free hot cocoa mix that I'm pretty sure was older than the boys.  (That stuff was rank but the boys would drink a mud puddle if it had a marshmallow in it...) When we ran out of the packets we were pretty stuck.  But necessity is the mother of invention, right?  I always have a few pouches of powdered milk for baking if I'm running low on milk.  And you know what?  If you put enough sugar and chocolate in with it, it makes pretty decent hot cocoa mix!  A lot of the recipes I found online were for gift size portions of hot chocolate mix and I just didn't have the provisions in the pantry, so through a little trial and error, I managed to figure out a good ratio for making one cup at a time.


Single Serving Instant Cocoa Mix
2 heaping teaspoons powdered milk
2 heaping teaspoons Sucanat (or white sugar)
1 heaping teaspoon cocoa
1 generous shake cinnamon
almost boiling water*
marshmallows or whipped cream (optional)

Stir all the dry ingredients together in the bottom of a mug and pour water in!  Stir it up!  Drink it up!  Easy Peasy!

*If you boil the water, the powdered milk tends to clump a little, so if you bring it to almost boiling, it keeps it from happening as much. 


And thus we survived Snowpocalypse 2012.  Snowmageddon has come and gone.  The Snowtastrophe has passed.  All 4-6 inches of it.  We actually managed to get our car all the way back up the driveway last night.  It's been raining for two days so the trees are clear, the roads are clear, and the snowman is pitifully pockmarked.  The birds are out again and we even saw a squirrel this morning.  And all of Seattle said, *Whew!* at the same time and ran to Starbucks to get their caffeine ration for the week.

Until next time, world!  Keep your pantries stocked, your chins up, and your emergency lamps full!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Best of Intentions...

     Well, I had planned to fill today's post with tons of beautiful, stunning, and otherwise jaw-dropping photos of my co-op food pick-up.  But it snowed.  Not little graceful lilting flakes of fluff.  Hard, fast, wet camera-damaging flakes of death.  As I write this, it is "snowing" so hard I can hear it.  It's not sleet.  It's not hail.  It's snow.  And I can hear it falling.  What the heck?  So instead of gorgeous photos of volunteers cheerfully instructing newbies how to fill their baskets and smiling visitors dragging back their haul, I have this:

 An over-exposed slightly blurry picture of the road I walked to pick up my box and the backside of the nice man who helped me carry my food back to my car.  Isn't it inspiring?

     So what in the world could have bade me drive 20 miles though the slush and the srain (that's right, I invented a word) on a Saturday morning when I should have been home enveloped in a warm blanket of freshly made waffles?

     A Bountiful Basket, my friend.  My neighbor introduced me to Bountiful Baskets about a year ago.  Two weeks worth of fruits and vegetables sitting in a basket waiting for you to pick it up for $15.  You heard me.  There is no up-front cost like many co-ops.  You pay as you have need.  I go once a month or so and I don't go at all during farmer's market season.  They have recently added organic produce as an option in my area.  Tell me what you'd expect to pay for this:

     4 large tomatoes, a bag of potatoes, a large head of lettuce, a bundle of chard, a bundle of mustard greens, a head of cauliflower, three oranges, a grapefruit, a bag of apples, two pints of blue berries, and a bunch of bananas.  All organic.  Brace yourself...  $25.  They also have fresh, chemical-free bread, special offerings like 20 lb boxes of oranges or tomatoes when in season, and depending on where you live, there are additional local foods occasionally.  I got a box of Cara Cara oranges today.  Holy crabnuggets.

     Bountiful Baskets is mostly run by volunteers.  The produce is usually seasonal and as local as possible which you know I like, but it's also inexpensive, which you know I like even more...  Currently, there are co-op delivery locations in 17 states.  If you live anywhere near one, I highly suggest you check them out! 

   As much as it sounds like it, this isn't a paid advertisement.  They don't know me from Adam.  I just think they're awesome!

 The Robot and the Angry Bird are more impressed with srain, however...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who wants to win 75 Bucks?

     My friend Cara over at Fork and Beans (You'll remember her as my 12 Days of Christmas Cookies partner) is hosting a gluten free and vegan recipe contest!  Three winners will receive a $75 gift card to the store of their choice!  Join me in giving gluten free vegan baking a try!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

CHEESE, Gromit!

     I distinctly remember the day in third grade when we were given a series of written directions.  Do this, then do this, then do this, then don't do the second thing.  It was to teach us to read all the directions before starting.  I remember this lesson every time I totally skim the directions and start building the stupid bookshelf or assembling the food processor or making the recipe.  Today all those years of ignoring that lesson bit me in the fanny.  The box says just buy milk and everything else you need is in the box.  The directions inside the box say, blah blah blah, mix your rennet tablet into spring or distilled water.  I have tap water.  I don't know if there's chlorine in it or not.  I assume so.  Frak.  So instead of starting at 9:30 like I wanted, I had to go to the grocery store.  One hour time frame shot before I even opened the rennet tablet. 

Since this is my very first time, I am hardly one to give tips or a recipe.  I can say that mozzarella is pretty easy to make, even if it takes longer than 1 hour to do it.  There are just a few steps and very few ingredients. Even if you screw it up like I did, you end up with something pretty darn yummy.  So here are some pictures of the process.  Once I've had a couple more tries, I'll try to post something slightly more informative...

Here are the assembled tools.  Note the Evian.  Nothing but the best for my first cheese.

Here are my assembled helpers.

Dissolving the rennet and citric acid in water.

Stirring it up.  This was pretty much all the boys were able to do, unfortunately.  The stretching is the most fun, but it's so darn hot and you have to work fast!

Pouring the milk from the bottle into the pot.

Realizing the first pot is too small...

Pouring the milk from the pot into a bigger pot...

Too hot before I even checked the first time.  I got tired of waiting for it to cool and just dumped the citric acid in. 

Then I dropped the thermometer into the pot.

You can see on my hand what the beginning curdling process looks like.  Just a few more degrees after this, it was time to add the rennet.

This is after the addition of the rennet and subsequent heating.

And this is what the curds look like just as you are about to let it rest.  I know.  Mouth watering.

Surveying the progress during the resting period...

It's not a pretty process... 
(Note the sexy lighting umbrella...  The joys of living in the pit of darkness that is the Pacific Northwest in the winter time...)

Draining the whey away.

First knead.

The point of all the kneading is to squeeze out all the whey.  I am familiar with this process from butter making, though with butter, you do it under water and it's called "washing."

You heat the cheese in the microwave for a minute and knead it again to get more whey out.  Then you heat it for 30 more seconds and do it again.  Gotta get that whey!

Then you add yer salt and commence ta stretchin'.   This is where I screwed up.  I should probably have stopped at this point in the stretching process, but not knowing any better, I did it a few times too many. 

Also, since I let my little one add (read "dump") the salt in, I was trying to knead it into the rest of the cheese.  I ended up with over kneaded bits mixed with under salted bits.  This is just my lack of experience, but I think will be easily remedied next time.

Because I didn't want to eat it hot, I gave it an ice bath per the directions.

And Huston, we have cheese!

If I had read the dang instructions better it would have been a better experience.  But even still, it was easy and fun and the cheese turned out extremely edible.  I actually have everything I need to make this except the rennet already in my cupboard.  Don't ask me why I bought the citric acid, I have no idea.  So once this kit runs out, I can foresee myself making this for years to come.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Year is a Circle...

     I don't make New Years Resolutions.  They have a "birthday wish" quality about them that I just don't respond well to.  I am more likely to make large life changing decisions in August or October or March or any other month based on something I've read or discovered on Netflix or heard through the grapevine.  I became a Vegetarian in a far distant April because I felt hypocritical wearing a shirt with a cow on it while eating a hamburger (I was a teenager, go figure).  I began really focusing on shopping at farmer's markets two years ago in March based on a book my husband's masseuse recommended for me (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver).  Again, go figure...  Started my food blog in a November after talking it over at length with my friend Matt.  Dedicated myself to taking really great food pictures (Matt, again) in a February (that's still a work in progress, obviously...)

     I get why resolutions are popular.  It's a new year.  Time to start anew or afresh or agog or awake or afloat or whatever.  It's an especially good time to detox after the whole November/December noshfest.  But I guess what I'm getting at is it doesn't just have to be New Years.  It can be any month.  Any time is the perfect time to dedicate yourself to something you are really interested in.  So start that diet now or start it next month.  Just start it.  Take that class.  Spend that time in meditation.  Whatever it is.  It doesn't matter when.  Just make it happen.  You can do it!

     And so, in the spirit of "you can do it" (or maybe, more accurately, in the spirit of "Get 'er done!") I'm embarking on something I've been trying to get around to since August of last year:  Cheese making.

     I love milk.  Sorry all you vegans out there.  I love it.  I love butter.  I love yogurt.  I love cheese.  I love ice cream, whipped cream, sour cream, cream cream.  Unless it's got blue mold growing on, around, or anywhere near it, I will eat the heck out of a milk product.  I make my own butter (except when I need, like, major tonnage say with a 12 day cookie project), I make my own yogurt, I make my own whipped cream.  And now I want to make my own cheese.  My husband bought me a cheese making kit for my birthday last year, but I haven't gotten around to actually making it. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll:  "The time has come," the Walrus said...

This here's my kit:

This is what's inside my kit:

(Milk thermometer, instruction manual, latex gloves, cheese salt, citric acid, and a rennet tablet.  Enough salt, acid, and rennet to make 4 one pound batches of mozzarella.)

 And this is the milk I like to use for all my milk-based hobby foods (and we drink it, too):

Twin Brook is a local dairy.  I like their milk because I know the cows are being properly raised and the milk is minimally processed.

      You may be asking yourself, "But what about that rennet tablet?  I thought she said she was a vegetarian?!"  This kit contains rennet tablets that look very much like the vegetarian ones sold here so I am hoping they are also vegetarian.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, rennet is an enzyme, used for centuries to curdle milk, that is made from the linings of calf stomachs.  Ew.  So unless you can be sure your cheese is made with vegetable or non-animal based rennet it's not vegetarian.  And I'll say right now, most artisanal and hard cheeses are not vegetarian.  Most mass-produced cheeses in your grocery are.

     Supposedly, this cheese makes up in 1 hour.  We'll see if I can manage to screw that time frame up royally.  I'm going to post this now, in the hopes that my boys and I can whip this stuff out tomorrow while there is enough light to photograph the process.  Wish me luck!

     And best of luck to you in all you endeavor to create/learn/explore/strive toward this year whether you even know you want to do it now or not!  There's no telling what you'll find to do tomorrow!

     (Sweet Biscuit Gravy, could I be any more optimistic?!  It's like double rainbows fly outta my hiney or something...)
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