Friday, January 30, 2009

Happy Shiny Muffins


A healthy vegan take on a classic muffin. Check out the story of my muffin inspiration and a recipe for incredibly cheerful cherry almond muffins at Maine Food & Lifestyle's blog, where I'm a guest contributor.

Blueberry Wheat Muffins

1/4 cup softened vegan margarine
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup nondairy milk (I used vanilla soy)
1 soft brown banana*
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup frozen wild blueberries (try Wyman's, from our own dear Washington County!)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tray with paper liners or oil the cups.

In a medium bowl, blend the margarine, applesauce, milk, banana, and vanilla until mostly smooth. If your banana is not completely squishy, you may have small chunks of it in the liquid mixture, and that is perfectly okay.

In a large bowl sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine without over-mixing.

Stir in blueberries.

Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are browned.

Remove the muffins from the oven and cool them on a wire rack. Makes 12 small muffins.

*(If at any time you find yourself with more brown bananas than you can use, you can save them for later in the freezer. Just thaw them a few hours before you begin baking.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I love my apron.


I wasn't always such a Mrs. Cleaver. I grew up in the eighties, a contrarian playground feminist, a lover of corn chips and breakfast cereal. At our house, ease of preparation was the primary consideration when planning dinner. We liked to eat, but we didn't have the time or patience for the rinsing, chopping, and stirring that preceded it.

When I moved out on my own and began cooking it never occurred to me to buy an apron. Instead I wore an oversized sweatshirt that got wet and oily. The apron was an impulse buy, marked down to nine dollars in November, because yellow is a summer color. I’ve had it for three years. People try to buy me new, fancier aprons, but I’ll never trade it in.

I love its buttery canvas, tough enough to withstand small fires, a shield against splattering oil, so thick that my teething puppy gave up trying to chew through the strap. I love its wide pockets, which fall just at arm’s length, deep and rectangular so nothing falls out when I lean over the oven. I love the adjustable neck strap, worn long on a hot day over a tank top, or pulled in tight over a favorite shirt.

I spill a lot. My apron bears a record of meals prepared and eaten: Tabasco splashed across the chest, turmeric on the left pocket, red wine spilled so long ago it has turned tan, a new brown smudge (chocolate?) at the hem. My apron allows me to sizzle, stir-fry, and mix with impunity. It is okay to be sloppy, to wipe my oily palms across my lap as I scurry between sink and stove. I mix cookie dough by hand, feeling the joy of preschool finger painting, the cool, thick goop squishing exquisitely between my fingers.

Until the day I lean too long over a burner and set my apron on fire, it remains my trusty sidekick in creating meals and messes.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vegan Beer Cheese Soup: Can it be Done?


I'm trying really hard to like nutritional yeast.

I get the impression from other blogs that many vegans sprinkle nooch on their food like B-vitamin fairy dust. The first time I used it, in a macaroni and cheese-like casserole, I knew better than to expect real cheese texture or taste. I'm not looking for vegan replicas of meat and dairy (see my condemnation of fake cheese in the tahini pizza post), and I'm open to new flavors. But the nooch-based sauce tasted a little, um, for lack of a better word... creepy? Nutritional yeast has a unique flavor that puts me at a loss for adjectives or similes. It's not bad. It's just weird.

But in the back of my mind I hear John and Yoko singing "All we are saying... is give yeast a chance," with the tambourines and everything, and that steels my nerves.

Last weekend it was cold and snowy, and my thoughts turned to that old midwestern warmer-upper, beer cheese soup. Usually it's made with lots of butter, but I found a recipe in Cooking Light magazine a few years ago that's just as good as the real stuff but lower fat. I envisioned my ideal non-dairy variation and jotted down the following ideas:

potatoes
nooch
beer
spicy

Sounds like dinner at a vegan frat house, right? The original recipe called for lots of milk and over a cup of cheese. Since there was no way I was putting that much yeast in my soup, and I didn't want it to taste like soy milk, I made it creamy by using more potato puree. I used 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric to add some color, but the soup came out looking a little too much like Bart Simpson's skin, so I've cut it to 1/8 teaspoon in the recipe.

I'll warn you now that beer cheese soup is not for everyone, even when made with real cheese. The alcohol evaporates, but the beer gives the soup a bite that might frighten away the faint of heart (Mom: you would not like this). I'm not going to go all Julia Child on you and say you can't cook with a beer you wouldn't drink; I had some inferior IPA in the fridge that I bought last fall (not that wonderful Dogfish Head up there), and this was a good way to get rid of it. The hoppier the beer, the more bite it will impart to the soup.

I realize that now I'm telling you to make soup with an ingredient I've just called creepy and weird, but this actually turned out okay. If you like nutritional yeast, as many people seem to, you'll like this soup. If you are merely trying to live with it, like I am, the soup has enough spice and funk that the nooch backs off and provides only a subtle suggestion of cheese. When I make it again, I may play around with the potato/chopped vegetable/yeast ratios, just to see where this soup can go. If you experiment and come up with something yummy, let me know!


Beer Cheese(ish) Soup

5 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups diced potatoes
1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup plain soy milk
2 TB Earth Balance margarine
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp Tiger Teeth Pepper (or cayenne pepper to taste)
1/8 tsp turmeric
12 ounces beer

Simmer 3 cups broth and diced potatoes for 15 minutes, then puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil. Sautee onion, celery, and carrot for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sautee for 30 more seconds.

Combine flour, remaining 2 1/2 cups broth, and soy milk in a bowl. Stir with a whisk. Add the mixture to the soup pot with the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Add the potato mixture, margarine, nutritional yeast, mustard, black pepper, salt, pepper, and turmeric. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add beer and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Garnish with freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4. This soup got very thick in the fridge, so when reheating the leftovers I added 1/2 cup broth and 1/2 cup water. Cornbread makes a good side.

Coming up this week: I've had a request for some man food, which works for me because the Superbowl is almost here (the Cardinals were big babies in the snow in week 16 so they deserve to lose). I plan to try Vegan Dad's Boneless Chickenless Hot Wings, and spanikopita from My Veggie Kitchen. I've never worked with phyllo dough or homemade seitan before, so this should be interesting. Photos soo

Friday, January 23, 2009

Vegan Girl Scout Cookies


The other day I received my annual invitation to order Girl Scout cookies, and my pulse quickened at the thought of Samoas. I am a fool for toasted coconut. Unfortunately, those adorable little harbingers of transfat are not vegan, and they're full of ingredients that don't really qualify as food, like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil. I'm no health nut (I ate no fewer than five cookies yesterday), but I am trying to stop eating things that come from a lab instead of a farm. (My standards for food quality may be high, but I have no self-respect in regard to quantity.)

I knew I could not live the rest of my life without a chocolate-dipped coconut cookie, so I set about trying to find a recipe online. The most authentic-looking homemade Samoas were on bakingbites.com. I replaced the butter and milk with non-dairy ingredients, and substituted a souped-up version of this vegan caramel sauce for the store-bought caramels.

I cannot stop eating these. They're puffier and less oily than the originals, but with all the same flavors. So who needs a Girl Scout, anyway?

A word about the name: I grew up calling these Samoas, and then I started seeing them labeled Caramel de-Lites. The first thing I wondered was why the Girl Scouts spelled "delights" in such a stupid way. Why the lowercase d and capital L, and why hyphenate it and drop g and h? All those changes make it confusing to read and annoying to spell.

The second thing I wondered was if the name change was in response to a complaint by residents of the Samoan Islands. My only knowledge of Samoans (the people, not the cookies), came from their occasional appearance as contestants on The Price is Right. They were always enthusiastic Bob Barker fans, and always morbidly obese. I am not suggesting all Samoans are fat, or even that they all love game shows. But I thought maybe Samoan public health or tourism agencies, in hopes of discouraging that perception, decided to dissociate themselves from chocolate coconut cookies.

The mundane explanation is that Girl Scout cookies are made by two companies that use the same recipes but call them different things. I'm calling them Samoas, because I like to imagine a tropical paradise in the South Pacific where islanders lay on the beach in grass skirts, listening to the calls of monkeys and tucans, eating tray after tray of coconut cookies.

Homemade Samoas

Step 1: Shortbread Cookies

1 cup Earth Balance margarine, soft
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c soy milk

Preheat oven to 350F and grease a cookie sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together margarine and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and soy milk. With a wooden spoon and your hands, form the dough into a ball. Add in a bit of extra flour if your dough is very sticky.

Working in two or three batches, roll the dough out on a floured surface or wax paper to about 1/4-inch thickness. Use a cookie cutter or the top of a glass with a 1 1/2-inch diameter to make rounds. Place on greased baking sheet and use a drinking straw or the small end of a funnel to cut out center holes. (Disclaimer: the hole is not really necessary, but it's cute and makes these cookies look more like the originals. You can skip making center holes if you're not concerned with aesthetics.)

Bake cookies for 12-14 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

These are delicious plain, too. I had five or six leftover after spreading the coconut topping, so I drizzled them with chocolate and served them with coffee.

Step 2: Caramel Coconut Topping

1/4 cup + 1 TBSP Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 TBSP coconut milk
1 TBSP arrowroot
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 TBSP maple syrup
3 cups shredded coconut, unsweetened

Preheat oven to 300F. Spread coconut evenly on a baking sheet (use the one the cookies were on) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until coconut is uniformly golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Combine 2 TBSP coconut milk with the arrowroot. Set aside.

Melt 1/4 cup Earth Balance in a saucepan. Stir in brown sugar. Add remaining 1/4 cup coconut milk. Bring liquid to a boil and boil for 4 minutes, stirring frequently.

Take the pan off the heat and immediately stir in arrowroot mixture. The liquid should thicken slightly. Add vanilla extract, maple syrup, and remaining tablespoon margarine, and stir until incorporated.

Combine caramel sauce with toasted coconut. While still warm, spread 2-3 tsp topping on each cookie. If topping becomes dry, stir in additional maple syrup.

Step 3: Chocolate Drizzle

8 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 TBSP soy milk

Melt chocolate in a small saucepan or the microwave, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. If desired (this is kind of a pain and I only did it for some of the cookies), spread melted chocolate on the base of each cookie and place on a clean piece of wax paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle finished cookies with chocolate.

Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gingerbread Graemes

I made these on Sunday during the snowstorm.

Here is Graeme:

I can't think of a better way to spend a snowy day than curled up with a book, drinking tea and eating gingerbread effigies of my dog.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pizza with Tahini Sauces

I'm bored with vegan pizza that's nothing more than regular pizza without the cheese. Mostly I'm tired of tomato sauce, but I also think cheeseless pizza, which looks a little naked, reinforces the perception that vegan food is always missing something.

"No meat? No eggs? No dairy? What do you eat?" People imagine familiar foods and then subtract the animal products until all that's left is dry bread and a parsley garnish.

I'm definitely not suggesting I want a pizza made with some kind of vegan imitation cheeze. These bouncy orange concoctions barely resemble food, let alone cheese. They're made in a mad scientist's laboratory, and the color, texture, and taste are always off.

At the risk of annoying any readers I may have in The Old Country, why not make a pizza that ignores the sauce and cheese model all together? Let's call it a flatbread.

I was looking for a sauce that would be rich like cheese, tangy like tomatoes, and free of bizarre ingredients. Tahini fit the bill: nothing but ground roasted sesame seeds, a creamy base for tart flavors. A google search told me that some people use a tahini-miso mixture on pizza, but I'm tired of miso, too, so I decided to experiment. My first try was mostly unadulterated tahini, with only a touch of lemon and garlic, slathered on a wheat crust. It tasted good but the tahini dried out and looked curdled.

I did a little more research and experimental mixing, and came up with two good options. The first reminds me of the creamy lemon sauce I used to eat on Bertucci's pizza when we lived in Massachusetts and I ate dairy. The second tastes more like traditional pizza and was a big hit with my husband. Neither sauce requires anything more complicated than measuring and mixing.

Lemon Pepper Tahini Sauce

1/4 cup tahini
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 lemon, juiced (about 3 TBSP)
2 TBSP warm water
freshly ground black pepper

Put everything in a bowl and whisk until sauce is a uniform consistency.

Tomato Tahini Sauce

1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup diced tomatoes (I used canned, but fresh would work)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp thyme

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree.

You can use any crust or toppings you like. I spread each sauce on a small wheat crust (see below), and topped them with rosemary, red onions, kalamata olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes. I baked them at 425F for 15 minutes.

wheat crust: I followed these directions, but used 1/2 white, 1/2 wheat flour, and I kneaded it a second time for about 5 minutes. It made enough for one large and two small thin crust pizzas. The edges were pretty crispy, but the interior was nice and chewy.

I'm feeling triumphant, because these flatbreads really hit the spot. Take that, cheeze!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two Ideas for Stuffed Peppers

Bell peppers are about the only vegetables in the produce department that look perky this time of year. Their shiny, impermeable skin protects against the melancholy that broccoli, tomatoes, and leafy greens suffer after traveling across the country. By mid-January, the devotion to squash and root vegetables that shapes my cooking from Labor Day through Christmas has fizzled. As I push my cart past the refrigerated shelves, the peppers' red, orange, and yellow pigments tug at the primitive part of my brain in charge of distributing vitamins I haven't eaten since August.

I'm intrigued by the bell pepper as receptacle. When you cut off the top and rinse out the seeds, you're left with a cup that's practically begging to be filled with beans or grains. In the past week I've stuffed peppers not once, but twice-- and I've got wild plans for the rest of the peppers in that photo above.

First, I slightly altered the recipe for Messy Rice in Veganomicon by adding some chopped vegetables, and used it to stuff green peppers. This is similar to the savory, tomato and rice stuffed peppers I remember from childhood. A cup of chickpeas would be a great addition, providing protein and stretching the rice to stuff four peppers.

(If you only need one or two peppers for a meal, don't stuff and cook all of them at once-- unless you like wet, wrinkly leftovers. Instead, store the extra prepared rice in the fridge, then stuff and cook the other peppers the next day.)

Messy Rice Stuffed Peppers

3 green bell peppers
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic
2 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 cup jasmine rice

1 1/2 cups water

Crush the coriander seeds. I put them in a plastic bag and smash them with a can. Set aside.

Preheat a saucepan on medium. Saute the onions, celery, and carrots in the oil for about 5 minutes, until the onion is lightly browned. Add the garlic and crushed coriander, and saute for 2 more minutes. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, rice, and water, and stir until evenly mixed. Cover and bring to a boil.

Once the mixture is boiling, stir and reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, until the rice is thoroughly cooked.

While the rice is cooking, preheat the oven to 400F. Remove the tops of the green peppers (like you would for a jack-o-lantern) and discard. Remove the seeds from the tops and the insides of the peppers. Place in a baking dish. If they won't stand up, you can strategically stuff the rest of the baking dish with balls of tin foil.

When the rice is cooked, spoon it into each pepper. Replace tops. Cover with tin foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the peppers are easily pierced with a fork.

*****

I was tempted to call these "newspaper peppers" (what's black and white and read all over-- get it?), but that sounded like peppers stuffed with newspaper (which is not far off from what most people think vegans eat, anyway). The first time I made these they were good, but dry, so we decided they needed some kind of salsa or a chutney. I whipped up a tangy mango salsa, a perfect accent to the coconut rice. Can I state for the record how much I love coconut milk?

Coconut Rice and Bean Stuffed Peppers

4 bell peppers (red are the best here because they're sweet)

1 tsp peanut oil
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice
1/2 tsp salt
1 15-oz. can coconut milk
1 cup water
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed

Preheat oven to 400F.

Sautee the rice and salt in the oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add coconut milk and water and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to the lowest setting. Stir and cover. Allow rice to cook for 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Stir in rinsed black beans.

Remove the tops of the peppers and discard. Rinse out the seeds. Place each pepper in a baking dish and fill with rice and beans.

Cover with tin foil. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the peppers are easily pierced with a fork. Serve with salsa or chutney.

Mango Salsa

1 mango, chopped finely
2 TBSP red onion, finely chopped
1/2 a large jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
2 TBSP cilantro, finely chopped
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
sprinkle of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp curry powder (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Spoon on top of baked peppers.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I am right in the middle of everything that happens in this town...

Scene: Monday. Lunchtime. Husband has stolen the Prius, forcing me to take a taxi to my big important presentation on the Hogan Road.

On the way, the driver gets a call from someone requesting a ride.

"Does it have to be the Suburban?" he asks. The caller talks for a while, and then the driver says, "Swords? How big?" The swords might fit in a regular cab, he says, and they agree to try. "Give me 15 minutes."

The cabbie hangs up and tells me, "This guy wants me to pick him up-- he just bought a 5 gallon fish tank and two swords. Kinda odd."

I suggest that the guy is decorating a Japanese restaurant.

"If they don't fit in the trunk, you'll have to put the blades out the window. Just don't drive too close to any pedestrians." Hahaha, chuckle.

As I tip the cabbie and step out, I call jovially, "Good luck with the swords!" Because I am the sort of person who enjoys a laugh with my fellow man, at the expense of a weirdo.

And then I read this.

Yeah, read down to the part about how the bank robber's goth roommates were caught in taxi with a four-and-a-half foot sword.

It's too bad for the driver, because I bet a bank robber would tip really well.

Maybe he got to keep the fish tank.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Here are the Mittens

I realize that the title of this blog is Mitten Machen, and so far I've only talked about food. You're thinking, what gives? Does she mach mittens oder nicht? The answer is ja!

Here is the first of a pair of men's mittens:

If you knit or crochet and have an account, you can check out my yarn stash and other projects on Ravelry.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Minestrone: Good Soup for Hard Times

The wonderful thing about minestrone is there are few guidelines. Everybody has a favorite version, but it's usually a variation on beans, onions, tomatoes, and carrots in a broth. Wikipedia says that in Italy, minestrone is is considered cucina povera (literally "poor kitchen"): food for poor folks. Maybe the wealthy can just throw away their extra carrots and leftover kale, but this is 2009, and I don't think there are any wealthy people left. So while you're waiting for your bailout, why not use up food you've already paid for and make minestrone?

I had some onions, celery, and carrots in my fridge that were holding up pretty well, but my potatoes were sprouting and the kale was a week old. Earlier in the week, I roasted several red peppers for another recipe and the extras were sitting charred and soggy in their plastic bag pleading, "Use us!" every time I opened the fridge. Since they weren't very pretty anymore, I pureed them and incorporated them into the broth.

Play with the recipe. If you don't have kale, no big deal. If you don't like garlic as much as I do, cut down the amount or omit it altogether. Toss in any vegetables or beans you want to get rid of, just keep an eye on the solids to liquids ratio and remember that the pasta will soak up some of the broth. I went pretty mellow on the seasoning so as not to overpower the flavor of the roasted peppers. You could use fresh herbs if you have them, but it's winter, so I don't.

Nuevo Great Depression Minestrone

2 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
2 small yukon gold potatoes, in bite-sized chunks
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 roasted red peppers (canned or home-made)
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 cups kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 15-oz. can chickpeas
3/4 cup elbow macaroni (whole wheat is good here)
salt and pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, puree roasted red peppers and set aside.

In a soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sautee onions, celery, and garlic for 5 minutes. Add carrots and herbs and cook for another 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, potatoes, pureed peppers, broth, water, and the bay leaf. Increase heat to medium high and simmer 10 minutes. Add chickpeas, kale, and macaroni, and simmer another ten minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vegan potluck

Here's what I'm bringing...


Baked Falafel
(adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook)

3/4 cup water
1/2 cup bulgur
1 TBSP olive oil
1 medium red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes
1 1/4 tsp cumin
1 1/4 tsp coriander
1 1/2 cups chickpeas
1 1/2 TBSP lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP whole wheat bread crumbs
2 TBSP minced parsley
2 TBSP minced cilantro
salt to taste

Boil the water and remove from heat. Mix in the bulgur and cover tightly. Allow the bulgur to sit until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the red chili flakes, cumin, coriander, and saute for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Combine chickpeas and bulgur in the bowl of a food processor. Add onion mixture, lemon juice, bread crumbs, parsley, and salt, and process until just mixed.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Allow mixture to rest for 15 minutes before forming into 2-inch balls. Place the balls into lightly oiled cookie sheet. Spray or brush the falafel with olive oil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden, turning the pan once during baking.

Serve with pita bread, thinly sliced veggies, and Post Punk Kitchen Tahini Dressing. Warming comfort food for a snowy day.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Viva la Smoothie

Growing up in Maine, fruit smoothies seemed exotic. They were so west coast: Malibu Barbie sipping a smoothie, cruising along in the convertible, scoping out the waves.

At the risk of making 1980s Maine sound like Communist Russia, tropical fruits like pineapple and mango were a thrill to imagine, especially in winter. By March, the applesauce and fruit snacks just weren't cutting it, and we all had rickets.

I married a Californian, who informed me that fruit does indeed grow there all year round, and if you don't mind being shot at, you can pull your car over to the side of the road and steal kiwis from an orchard. Southern California is like a garden of eden of fruit and smog and illegal immigration. Fruit is so abundant that certain of my in-laws let tangerines, from a tree growing in their yard for heaven's sake, rot and fall off-- in February! Do they know what a Mainer would do this time of year for a freshly-picked tangerine?

The best we can do in Maine in the winter is frozen fruit, but that's ideal for cold, frosty smoothies. This is so simple it's barely a recipe, but I thought I'd share it because it's quick and yummy and gets some vitamins and protein into you in the morning. And drinking a smoothie in your station wagon on the way to work will make you feel like Kelly Kapowski.

Free-form Smoothie

(This makes two 16-ounce smoothies. Sometimes we drink them out of pint glasses because that's funny early in the morning.)

--1 banana (yellow or brown or somewhere in between)

--4 oz. silken tofu (cut a 16 oz. rectangular block into quarters and store the extra three in a container covered with water for use another morning)

--1 1/2-2 cups pineapple juice (the amount depends on how thick you want your smoothies)

--2-2 1/2 cups of frozen fruit (strawberries, pineapple, mango, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, or some combination thereof)

In a blender, puree the banana, tofu, and juice together first. Then add the frozen fruit and puree until smooth. I've found that making these takes much less blending time when I add the ingredients in this order. That's it! Pour and insert straws.

I've adapted this recipe over the years from the Tofu Berry Shake in Student's Vegetarian Cookbook, substituting fruits and altering ratios, and leaving out a half teaspoon of vanilla extract and sugar. I make these at 6am, so the fewer ingredients, the better, and who needs added sugar when you've got fruit? You could play around with different types of juice; I've used mango and it was good. I'm imagining a Cape Cod-esque blueberry/ strawberry/ orange and cranberry juice smoothie. Maybe coconut milk would be good? Play around and let me know if you find a good combination.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tiger Teeth: Rah!

We like things spicy around here.

This is another California-ism, because I didn’t grow up eating spicy: the Old El Paso taco seasoning packet was about as funky as it ever got around my house. I was indoctrinated by my husband, who grew up in a town where there are three kinds of hot sauce on every table (a red one, a green one, and a Mexican one). I’ve developed a heat tolerance probably average for southern and western parts of the country, but for a Mainer I’m a fire-breathing dragon.

Lately I’ve been craving food so spicy it will singe my nose hairs. This is where
Tiger Teeth Pepper comes in. The only ingredients are habanero peppers, vinegar, and salt, all smashed up together. This stuff is brutal, but in moderation it improves the taste of almost everything. We add it to salsa, soup, hummus, and peanut sauce. It’s terrific on scrambled tofu and homefries. Try it on chunks of mango-- whoo! That will wake you up. Try it on white bread with margarine, a nutritionally worthless comfort food of them there Okies.

Tiger Teeth is made in Biddeford and right now it’s only sold in southern Maine (venues listed on their website). When I was in the Dorch for Thanksgiving I bought some at The Meat House in Scarborough, which made me feel dirty. I will lobby the tiger to migrate north.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Giacomo's Groceria= molto buono

Update: Giacomo's closed for renovation for most of spring 2009. They reopened on May 11, 2009, with a changed menu. See a more recent review here.

Thanks to google translator for that one.

I live just up Main Street from Giacomo's, and though it's no vegan hot spot, I seem to find plenty of things to spend money on. First of all, the coffee: Coffee by Design roasts some tasty beans. I drink it black, which is gross with acidic or flavored coffee, but lovely with the mellow Atlantic Sunrise blend. My husband, who is a masochist, buys beans and makes a thermos of super-concentrated Alanzo's Double Dark every morning. It hurts me even to smell this coffee; it is heart-stoppingly strong. Giacomo's also has Silk, so you can get your soy latte or chai.

When I lived in Boston and bought groceries at Stop 'n Shop, I used my breadmaker all the time. Now that I have Giacomo's, my breadmaker is sad and dusty in the attic. They carry breads from
Borealis, Artisan Brick Oven, and Daily Bread, and I buy a loaf or two weekly: the Artisan apple cinnamon makes yummy toast (not strictly vegan-- it contains honey), and the Daily Bread sliced wheat is a good honest sandwich bread.

Most of Giacomo's sandwiches are meaty, but the standard Caprese is a vegetarian option, as is the vegetable antipasto. I order the latter without cheese. It's a little messy, with kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers popping out everywhere, so I recommend eating it where no one can see you. The rosemary focaccia is salty and good! A couple of times a month we pick up sandwiches and a bag of Little Lad's Herbal Popcorn and eat like slobs. Last summer a hummus wrap was available, which could also be made vegan.

There are vegan options from the deli. The tuscan bean salad (pictured above) contains chickpeas, red onion, tomato, parsley, garlic, olive oil, and probably some other things, but no cheese, 'cuz I asked. I like to toss it with whole wheat penne, drizzle it with a little extra olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice, and bring it to work for lunch. I can barely concentrate all morning if I know I've got this waiting in my lunchbox, especially if I've topped it off with stuffed grape leaves. YUM. The fruit salad, roasted vegetables, and panzanetta are also vegan (though I don't understand the appeal of soggy bread).
Giacomo's carries good wine and good beer, too. They have an impressive selection of Belgians for Bangor.

Now all they need is a platter of vegan cupcakes...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vegan Champagne Cupcakes

For New Year's Eve, I wanted some light, airy champagne cupcakes. The recipes I found online either called for several egg whites or relied on cake mixes, so I fiddled around a bit with the Fluffy White Cupcakeson schmooedfood, replacing half the soy milk with cheap champagne ($4.99-- classy!). It was a freshly opened bottle, so the batter was quite bubbly. The finished cupcakes weren't especially puffy, so I doubt the carbonation made any difference-- you could use leftover flat champagne as well.

Once the cupcakes were baked, the champagne flavor was barely detectable. I'd like to try making these again, omitting the vanilla and coconut extracts, to see if the champagne flavor is stronger. I might also increase the baking soda for more air pockets. I'll do that just as soon as the 19 cupcakes on my counter are gone.

I wanted the frosting to be pink without using food coloring, so I thawed some frozen strawberries and added the juice. The champagne and strawberry flavors were yummy together.

We enjoyed these before heading down to West Market Square in downtown Bangor to see the beachball drop. Happy 2009!

Vegan Champagne Cupcakes

1 TB apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup plain soymilk
3/4 cup champagne
2 1/8 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 tsp coconut extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F and put cupcake liners in a muffin pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and soy milk. Set them aside to curdle for a few minutes. In a large mixing bowl, sift together dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients, including the vinegar and soy milk and the champagne. Beat or stir vigorously until well mixed.

Fill each cupcake liner with 1/4 cup of batter. Bake 20 minutes, or until a tester (I use a knife) inserted in the middle of the cupcake comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then place cupcakes on a wire rack to cool before frosting.

The original recipe says it will make 22 cupcakes, but I got 16. If you put less batter in your cupcake liners, begin checking them after 15 minutes in the oven.

Champagne Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (like Spectrum Organic)
1/2 cup vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance sticks)
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup champagne
1-2 TB strawberry juice (from thawed strawberries)

Using an electric mixer, blend shortening and margarine together until smooth. Add sugar one cup at a time with a little bit of the champagne and blend for a minute. When all the sugar and champagne have been added, add 1 TB of strawberry juice and blend on high for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Taste, and add more juice if you want a stronger strawberry flavor or color.

After modestly frosting my sixteen cupcakes, I had about a cup of frosting leftover. If you get more cupcakes out of this recipe, or pile on the frosting, you'll use all of it.