Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Birthday/New Years Eve Celebrations...

The last day of the year is always a weird day for me. I’m always sad that the year is over, and always happy and excited that a new one is just about to begin. This year things are a little different though. Since 2013 wasn’t that great a year for me, I’m not so sad to see it go. I’m looking forward to 2014, and know that there are many amazing things waiting just over the horizon. I hope everyone has a lovely New Years Eve, and I wish you all the best for the New Year too. Enjoy your celebrations!

We’ve been celebrating rather quietly this year. Yesterday was my husband’s birthday and so we spent a lovely day together. Each year on his birthday I make him a special dinner of his choosing. Sometimes he wants something elaborate and sometimes he wants something simple - this year it was kind of in between - he requested sushi! We both love sushi, he even more so then me, and while I don’t find it particularly difficult to make it, it is usually time consuming. When I asked what kind of sushi he wanted he shrugged and said “Whatever you want, you always make great sushi.” and so I decided to try my hand at making the Tempeh Nori Rolls from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s book “Veganomicon.” I really don’t use this book enough and so I was happy to try the recipe out.

Tempeh Nori Rolls 

I guess you could say that the Tempeh Nori Rolls are a kind of take on a spicy California roll. You mash steamed tempeh with vegan mayo, and chili sesame oil, and then spoon it over your rice, and topp with green onion and avocado before rolling the whole thing up. I’ll admit after tasting the tempeh mix I added just a touch of garlic and salt to the tempeh and really the final product was fantastic. We loved these rolls, texture-wise I think they were spot on.

Cucumber Rolls 

For our second roll I just made a simple cucumber roll - no recipe required. It’s just Nori, Rice, Thick sliced cucumber, and a smear of Chipotle Vegenaise. Super quick, super easy, but super delicious especially that Chipotle Mayo!

To go along with our sushi I baked up a box of Vegan Calamari. My husband used to love calamari before we were vegan, he used to eat it any chance he got, and so when I saw this vegan calamari at the store I thought I’d get it for him so that he could try it out. Now, I’ve never eaten a calamari in my life - never was one for squid, octopus or anything weird like that, so I can’t say how this compares in taste to actual calamari. I can say that I liked it, and that the texture is about what I’d imagine actual calamari to be like. Chewy, and in my opinion it tasted a bit like what I remember chicken tasting like.  We dipped our Calamari in Follow Your Heart Tartar sauce and the sauce was absolutely delicious. My husband really loved them, but I’m not sure this is something I’d be dying to have again. Great for the novelty factor though.

Vegan Calamari 

Today the celebration continued with a combination birthday/New Year’s Eve party - which is currently still in progress, I snuck away for a few minutes!! - Every NYE we have family and friends over and order Pizza - or in recent years It’s been a pizza/Chinese Food combo. This year the omni’s ordered pizza and Chinese food, and this year I decided to make my own pizza from scratch since I had the time, and since I’ve been really enjoying pizza making lately.

Meatball Pizza 

Pizza is my husband’s other food. I think if he had the choice he would probably live off of sushi and pizza for his entire life, and so It was the perfect food to celebrate NYE. When I picked up that box of calamari I came across a bag of frozen vegan meatballs and decided to try the Meatball Pizza in Julie Hasson’s awesome little book “Vegan Pizza” It’s a pretty simple recipe, Marinara, vegan meatballs, daiya mozzarella, and minced parsley - and it was so damn good. If you want to know a secret I’ve always hated meatball pizza. As an omnivore I thought it was pretty nasty, I think I only ate it once! As a Vegan, I thought it was great, just another example of how my tastebuds have changed since going vegan. I guess it turns out that I was never so much a picky eater as I just didn’t like the taste of meat in the first place.

Caramelized Onion and Artichoke Pizza with
Balsamic Reduction 

For our second pizza I made the Caramelized Onion and Artichoke Pizza with Balsamic Reduction from Lane Gold’s book “Vegan Junk Food.” Again this was a very simple recipe, onions, garlic, daiya mozzarella, artichokes and a balsamic reduction made with balsamic vinegar and sugar. It was so tasty, so oniony, we couldn’t get enough!

And of course, no birthday celebration would be complete without dessert. Every year in addition to a delicious dinner I make my husband a cake of his choosing. Well this year he didn’t want cake, he wanted cupcakes! - Yes more cupcakes, because he apparently didn’t get enough on Christmas. - He requested the Cookies and Creme Cupcakes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s book “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World” and so I was happy to oblige him. Unfortunately I only had 4 candles left, but you get the idea. We sang happy birthday, he made his wish, and now we’re playing board games until it’s time to ring in the New Year.

Cookies and Creme Cupcakes 

Until Next Year! Stay Safe - Be Happy.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013...

Two Christmas Stollen.
Almond-Free on the Left, Almonds on the Right

This year we had a somewhat quieter more relaxing Christmas which I appreciated. It was a day of gift-giving, family, friends, and good food. It all started when I got up around 6:45am, which is early, but not as early as I normally get up on Christmas morning. When I lived at home my mother and I always got up around 6am Christmas morning. We’d make tea or coffee and sit in the quiet of the house, talking and admiring our Christmas tree until everyone else woke up. Even though I live so far away now, I still like to rise early on Christmas, in fact the early hours of Christmas morning are still my favorite part of Christmas. It’s like the calm before the storm, and I enjoy being the only one awake. Of course, without my mother to talk to I don’t spend that much time sitting in the livingroom. Instead I use my early morning time to prep and roast vegetables for Christmas dinner, or do other cook prep things to save myself the time later.

So I worked on dinner until about eight o’clock, and then it was gift-giving time. My other favorite part of Christmas is the look on my husband’s face when he opens gifts - particularly when he’s not expecting them. I got quite the haul this year - loads of books, both cook books and non-fiction books. Some from my husband, some from my brother-in-law, some from my parents-in-law. My parents-in-law also got me a lovely 5 quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven - and this thing weighs a ton! My husband got me a cute little cake pop maker which is totally awesome, because I keep talking about how I want to re-create some non-vegan cake pops I’d had in the past. Plus it makes doughnut holes! I mean, sure you can make doughnut holes without special equipment but I know myself, they won’t come out as round spheres, without a little help, ha.

Then it was breakfast time. Traditionally, growing up the only breakfast we ever ate in my house on Christmas morning was Stollen. Stollen is a German Christmas fruit bread. It’s a yeasted bread, traditionally made with a lot of butter, and it’s not particularly sweet itself, but the outside is dusted with a load of powdered sugar. Stollen is my other favorite thing about Christmas, I love it! The thing is, the only person in my family who knows how to make Stollen is my Oma. She used to make all the Stollen’s for her children, and grandchildren. Each year she’d take three or four days and bake maybe 2 dozen of them or so. She mailed me one each year, but as some of you may know she passed away this past October. An aunt of mine, was considering making the Stollen’s herself this year - she had been helping my Oma do it for the past couple of years because it was getting to be too much work for her to do alone - but it was just too soon for her. A lot of us in my family still haven’t quite gotten over it, and Christmas has been a particularly hard season for us because it was my Oma’s favorite holiday. Still I really hated the idea of having Christmas without Stollen, because Christmas just isn’t Christmas without it, you know?

So I took it upon myself to make the Stollen myself. I couldn’t get my Oma’s actual recipe and so I spent countless hours researching online how to make Stollen. I finally found a traditional Dresden recipe - sans marzipan, the way my Oma made it - that looked promising. Of course the recipe was very vegan-unfriendly, it also took about 24 hours to proof. After a bit more research I came across a veganized version of the Dresden recipe that only took about 6 hours in total to make - with only 4 hours of proofing. I went with that recipe, and tinkered with it to get it suited to my taste. I made one tester Stollen in early December and it turned out great, except I used candied cherries and cinnamon in the dough which I realized was a mistake when I took my first bite. My Oma never used them. For my second batch - my Christmas batch - I omitted the candied Cherries and the cinnamon. I used cardamom, candied lemon and orange peel, currents, sultans, raisins, cranberries, and slivered almonds. I soaked the dried fruit in a mixture of rum and amaretto, and even if the recipe isn’t exactly like my Oma’s I would say it tasted pretty damn close.

Since my husband doesn’t like nuts I divided my dough and made two Stollens. One with almonds one without, he loved it too. This was his first time eating Stollen, because he’d always refused to eat my Oma’s due to the almonds. We cut three slices each, smeared them with Earth balance and downed them with Vegan Nog, and hot Vanilla Hazelnut Tea. The perfect morning.

Lebanese Muhammara Dip

After we cleaned up I had a little time to relax before I needed to make my appetizers. I went simple this year, we had the leftover hummus from Christmas Eve, and I made a Lebanese Muhammara Dip from the book "Easy Vegan." As well as the Baked Onion Dip from Lane Gold’s “Vegan Junk Food” Both dips went over well, I loved the addition of the pomegranate seeds in the Muhammara, but that baked onion dip, damn! It was amazing, and it went fast. It was better then any other onion dip I’ve ever had, way better then any non-vegan onion dip, and it was so easy. It’s basically just vegan mayo, vegan cream cheese, vegan mozzarella, dried parsley, onions and garlic. Except I didn’t have dried parsley and so I used fresh, and I also used my own home-made cream cheese instead of store-bought. So good, I could have eaten the entire pan.

Baked Onion Dip 

When it was time to eat we tucked in to a lovely home-made Porcini-stuffed Seitan Roast with Wild Mushroom Sauce the recipe for which came from Robin Robertson’s “Party Vegan” I’ve had a lot of luck with Party Vegan in the past, it’s a great little book, but for whatever reason this recipe gave me trouble. I cooked the roast in it’s water bath for an hour - 20 minutes longer then the recipe said to - and it still wasn’t firm, it was dough. At that point I decided to pitch the water bath and just bake the thing in foil on a cookie sheet. I baked it for about an hour covered and 15 additional minutes uncovered after which point I was finally firm and brown. I don’t know why the water bath didn’t work, I’ve never had trouble with any of Robertson’s recipes in the past so maybe there was some error on my part. Anyway, in the end the roast was firm, chewy and delicious. Maybe not my favorite roast - I think that honor goes to Carla Kelly - but pretty good nonetheless. The roast was stuffed with a mixture of rice and mushrooms and bread. To me the stuffing was a bit bland, but then I’m also not a fan of rice stuffings. I don’t know why. The mushroom sauce that went with it was pretty damn delicious though!

Porcini Stuffed Seitan Roast

To accompany the roast I made Robertson’s Herb Mashed Potatoes - also from Party Vegan, and these were great. Nicely flavored with fresh thyme, tarragon, parsley, chives and garlic. It went perfectly with the roast and the gravy.

Herb Mashed Potatoes 
Wild Mushroom Sauce 

We also had the Sweet Root Casserole with Dried Fruit from Terry Walters “Clean Start” which was a delicious mixture of parsnips, carrots and sweet potatoes with ginger, lemon zest, orange juice, Dried Plums, and dried cherries. A bit sweet for some people but I thought it was pretty good, maybe fewer plums next time as they seemed to be the sweetest component.

Sweet Root Casserole with Dried Fruits 

Also from Terry’s “Clean Start” we had the Green Beans, Figs and Pistachios in Balsamic Reduction. A nice accompaniment, the beans were tender crisp, and the figs and pistachios brought a really lovely flavor note.

Green Beans with Figs and Pistachios in Balsamic Reduction 

Finally we had Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Fresh Cranberries, the inspiration for which came from Here. By the way I couldn't find canned or Jarred Chestnuts anywhere and so I had to buy fresh ones and boil and peel them myself. Wow, what a pain in the ass that is! After all that we were pretty stuffed, and as my Oma would say “If that was dinner then we had it.” Indeed. Of course, after a bit of lazing around and more gift-giving we dug into dessert.

Roast Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Fresh Cranberries

We had tons of leftover cookies from Christmas Eve , plus I made 3 dozen cupcakes. First up were the Salted Caramel Cupcakes from Chloe Coscarelli’s book “Chloe’s Vegan Desserts.” these were really delicious, and I liked the addition of big flakes of salt on top. However, they were a bit sweet for my taste. Half of one was more then enough.

Slated Caramel Cupcakes 

Also from “Chloe’s Vegan Desserts” I made the Mint Cookie Cupcakes. Which are essentially a chocolate cupcake filled with crushed oreo’s, topped with a frosting full of crushed oreo’s and peppermint extract. This was probably my favorite out of the three cupcakes I made. Something about that peppermint chocolate combo you know?

Mint Cookie Cupcakes 

Then I made the Tiramisu Cupcakes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s book “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World” These were pretty good, although the cream cheese frosting didn’t make near enough to frost each cupcakes. Since I didn’t have enough time to make a second batch of frosting my cupcakes looked a little sad, and kept falling over. Oh well, I suppose in the end taste is more important then presentation right?

Tiramisu Cupcakes 

At some point during the evening festivities it began snowing. In Vancouver it’s pretty rare to get a White Christmas and even more rare for it to actually snow on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Typically our Christmas’s are wet and rainy, or cold but sunny. Growing up I think I maybe only saw 4 or 5 white Christmas’s, so that’s one thing I like about Chicago, except over the past few years Chicago hasn’t had snow on Christmas Day either!  So this felt really kind of special to me, and after everyone left the house my husband and I took a nice walk with our dog Artemis in the quiet, snowy night. This, more then any other, ended up being my favorite moment of the entire day.

My Full Plate.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Quiet Christmas Eve 2013...

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas yesterday! I had hoped to post in the days leading up to the holiday but just found myself too busy. In the end some of our plans fell apart, and so our celebration was a little more low-key then usual, but on the other hand that came as a little bit of a relief. I’m always so wiped out at the holidays - overly stressed, super busy. - but this year I planned ahead. I did all of my baking ahead of time, and cooked half of my Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve Day, which freed me up a lot on Christmas Day so I could just kick back, relax, and enjoy the company.

Of course, just because our celebration was ‘low-key’ doesn’t mean we didn’t gorge ourselves on amazing food, because I am apparently incapable of just keeping things simple. I don’t know what happens, every year I say I’m not going to do it, and every year I go crazy and make a ton of desserts and appetizers and lavish meals. There’s always a ton leftover, we’re always stuffed to the point of bursting - we’re happy of course, but every year I say ‘never again’ and every year right around holiday time my brain and body are taken over by some kind of monster Martha Stewart and I just keep cooking, and baking until I want to collapse.

This year I’d planned to bake 4 dozen cupcakes, and 7 different kinds of cookies, as well as three appetizers for the party we were suppose to go to on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately the party didn’t happen, it was cancelled last minute which saved me from making the 4 dozen cupcakes, but I’d already made 2 of the dips and all of the cookies. Oh well, more for us right? Of course our Christmas Eve party was small, my in-laws and a couple of family friends, and there was no way we could eat all of those cookies - but enough about that, you want pictures right?

Gingerbread Men and Women 

Well, I don’t know what possessed me, some sort of festive Christmas spirit I suppose, but I decided I wanted to make gingerbread men! My husband and I were in the grocery store a few weeks ago and I saw some gingerbread men cookie cutters and felt compelled to buy them. Typically I’m not a roll and cut cookie person. I’m a ‘drop a dollop on a pan’ kind of cookie maker. I have never made gingerbread men before, and the last time I made cut-out cookies was probably as a kid with my mother. But I just had to do it! I used Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s recipe from “Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar.” These cookies were super delicious, great flavor, and a great texture. Not too soft, and not crispy, but they were a pain in the ass. Even though I floured my work surface and chilled the dough the dough kept sticking. Some of my cookies came out goofy looking but hey, they all tasted great. I just used some generic vegan icing from the grocery store to put their faces on, because you know, they had to have faces.

Mojito Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Next up I made a batch of Mojito Chocolate Chip Cookies from Chloe Coscarelli’s book “Chloe’s Vegan Desserts” These were really easy to whip together and tasted great. I liked the Sugar lime sprinkle on top and the hint of rum, but personally I think they would have been better with mint extract vs peppermint extract. Peppermint extract makes this taste more like a candy cane. Peppermint is not usually used in Mojito’s, just regular mint. I might also make these again not only with the mint instead of peppermint, but without the chocolate. So that it really tastes like a mojito.

Fiesta Margarita Cookies 

Next I made the Fiesta Margarita Cookies from Kelly Peloza’s book “The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur” These were good but as my husband pointed out they tasted a little more like Lemon Meringue pie then they did a Margarita. I liked the addition of slat sprinkled on top, and instead of just using regular sugar I used some left over sugar/lime mix from the mojito cookies.

Key Lime Shortbread Cookies 

Then for some crazy reason I felt like making some shortbread, but of course regular shortbread just wasn’t going to cut it so I used Isa and Terry’s recipe for Key Lime Shortbread from “Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar” and it tasted really great. Like a key lime pie. These were actually much simpler to make then I thought. They cut beautifully, and rolled fairly easily - although as you can see by my uneven ovals I’m no expert roller. I dusted their edges with a mixture of organic raw sugar, and green decorating sugar.

Candy Cane Cookies 

Anyone who knows me knows that Peppermint and Chocolate together is a combination that makes me weak in the knees. I don’t know why, but this is definitely one of my favorite combo’s ever. I got crazy for it, and it doesn’t matter if I’m avoiding sugar, or how healthy I’m being or If I’m cleansing. If someone waves a peppermint chocolate bar in my face, or a peppermint mocha I’m barely capable of resisting. It’s like my cryptonite. So of course when I saw the recipe for Candy Cane Cookies in Kelly Peloza’s book “The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur” I just had to make them! I’ll be honest and say they were a bit of a pain in the ass to make, but delicious.  It’s recommended that the cookies be baked on parchment paper because the candy canes melt in the oven and then burn onto the cookie pans, making it impossible to scrape off. I took this suggestion and the candy canes melted onto the parchment paper and were - in my opinion - just as difficult to scrape off. I lost a few soldiers but all in all I got 29 cookies out of the recipe and they tasted great. A big hit.

Eggnog Cookies 

Also because I couldn’t resist the idea of a vegan eggnog cookie I decided to make Kelly Peloza’s Eggnog Cookies from “The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur” too. I mean, it doesn’t really get more festive then that right? These were super easy to make, and they tasted great. My only complaint is that they didn’t taste quite like eggnog. My husband said they tasted more like a sugar cookie with some nutmeg in them, and I’d have to agree. Perhaps in the future I’d make these with more nutmeg and more eggnog. I tried to make the eggnog glaze really potent but it only did so much. As I said delicious, but not quite noggy enough for me.

Irish Creme Kisses 

Lastly I made Isa and Terry’s Irish Creme Kisses from “Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar” these were really great, I mean who doesn’t love whiskey and chocolate in a cookie? Kind of perfect right? They were so moist and chewy, and the chocolate topping just gave it an extra chocolate kick. Very tasty.

Of course we ate more then just sweets on Christmas Eve. We also snacked on some hummus that I made with some cubed up pieces of pumpernickel bread, and we ordered a veggie pizza as a last minute dinner idea since I hadn’t made an actual meal.

The pizza was just from a local non-vegan place that my husband’s family likes, but we were able to get a tasty cheeseless pizza, thin crust, extra sauce, red pepper, onion, mushrooms and broccoli.  Since my husband loves pizza so much he didn’t mind in the slightest that we weren’t eating a more festive dinner. All in all it was a nice albeit quiet evening with lots of good grub, and we finished the night by watching one of my favorite films of all time “It’s A Wonderful Life.” and then that old claymation “Rudolph” from the 60's. Total classic. Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about Christmas Day.