Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I baked a dozen Chocolate Gluten Freedom Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and topped them with vanilla buttercream and grated chocolate. I used red and yellow India Tree Natural Decorating Colors to make the frosting orange. These dyes aren't as vibrant as the synthetic variety, but their plant-derived ingredients won't give you nightmares.

Happy Trick-or-Treating!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Because Apples Weren't Sweet Enough Already

Do you like your caramel salty?

Or sweet?

To make this mixed batch of caramel apples, I used this recipe from Chow, substituting soy cream and Earth Balance for the cream and butter, and brown rice syrup for corn syrup (I just couldn't bring myself to buy a bottle of liquid diabetes). With all those substitutions, I was worried they would taste like hippie caramel apples, but they're every bit as chewy and sweet as the classic. They came together more quickly than I expected, though my caramel took 20 minutes to reach 250 degrees instead of the 10 indicated in the recipe. I will definitely use this caramel in the future to smother otherwise healthy food.

The best part of eating caramel apples (besides the stick) is the meeting of super-sweet caramel and tart fruit. After the first bite, apple juice drips behind and begins to melt the caramel, creating a sweet, sour, sticky mess. If the caramel doesn't pull your teeth out, it will surely rot them away: this is the true spirit of Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I am Not a Rabbit

The Vegan Month of Food is drawing to a close. The purpose of this month of intensive blogging was to show the world how fun, easy, delicious (and normal) vegan food can be (I can't say the same for gluten-free food, but that's for another day). Vegan MoFo has also been about dispelling misconceptions. Sure, I eat tofu, I eat lentils, but I also enjoy a wide and colorful variety of plant-based food, some of it deliciously unhealthy. Cooking for myself, frequenting vegan-friendly restaurants, and trading ideas with other vegan food bloggers, I sometimes forget how baffling and restrictive a vegan diet can seem to people from outside my food community.

This week, we've got family from across the country staying with us, and trying to plan meals that will satisfy everyone has reminded me of the tension between veganism and the way most Americans eat. One dinner highlighted the common misconception that vegan food = rabbit food: monotonous, flavorless, and relentlessly healthy. The other night, through a series of compromises and circumstances beyond my control, we ended up at Chili's. Fortunately, I was able to print their allergy menu beforehand and study my options. Eliminate meat, eggs, dairy, and gluten from the Chili's menu, and you're left with a dinner salad, sans cheese and croutons. Iceberg lettuce and dry carrots that were shredded last week do not make an attractive or satisfying meal. I picked at my salad and waited until I could get home and eat real dinner: corn tortillas, leftover lentil salad, and blueberry pie a la mode.

I'm not complaining; I wasn't expecting anything better. Vegans, gourmands, and food allergy-sufferers have no business eating at Chili's. But I'm disappointed that a humane meal is still so hard to find outside my vegan bubble; I'm frustrated that to most people eating the Standard American Diet, veganism looks unattractive and unrealistic.

It's easy, really. And totally delicious.

Being vegan does not mean eating salad everyday; it does mean choosing better, more creative restaurants than the chains found next to shopping malls. Unless you live in one of a handful of vegan-friendly major cities, eating well as a vegan requires learning to cook well (from scratch). It means collecting cookbooks and gathering inspiration from other vegans online and in person. It may mean skipping the grocery store for a farmers' market or coop in order to find the freshest fruits and vegetables. To eat well as a vegan, you must love food: cooking it, eating it, shopping for it, and reading about it. Veganism is not deprivation; it is deepening your relationship with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.

And that, my friends, is what Vegan MoFo is all about.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How To Write a Recipe

I'm a little under the weather today, so I'm cashing in my last free post card and referring you to a short piece I wrote for the alumni advice column of my college magazine. I described the process I use to write recipes; you may find this helpful if you want to record old family favorites, submit recipes for publication, or incorporate more recipes into your own food blog. If you're already expert at writing recipes, what are your tricks, and what advice have I left out? The original piece is here (scroll down about halfway), but I've cut and pasted it below:

Writing Your Own Recipes
Share Your Kitchen Creativity with Confidence

With the growing popularity of food blogs and forums, opportunities abound for creative home cooks to share their recipes online. These steps will ensure that readers can reliably reproduce your signature dishes in their own kitchens:

Prepare the dish yourself. Keep a pencil handy to list ingredients, record procedures, and note cooking times. Number the steps and indicate any that occur simultaneously. Don’t overlook preparatory steps like greasing cookie sheets; jot down a reminder to include these at the beginning of the recipe or during a waiting period while vegetables marinate or dough chills.

Make writerly decisions early on. Will your tone will be chatty or matter-of-fact? Will you spell out or abbreviate words like teaspoon and tablespoon? Be consistent. Use frequent paragraph breaks and numbered lists to help readers orient themselves in the text.

Be precise. There’s a difference between “2 cups of walnuts, chopped” and “2 cups of chopped walnuts.” Use specific measures, rather than “a pinch” or “a dash.” If your recipe calls for chopped, sliced, or minced ingredients, list the size and number of items to be used, not just the measured amounts needed—for example, “1 cup sliced carrots (2 large)”— so readers will know how much to buy.

Describe how the food should look, smell, and feel. Don’t just say “saute the onions.” Instead, say “saute the onions for 3-4 minutes over medium heat, until they become fragrant and turn golden.”

Go easy on the dishwasher. If groups of ingredients are to be prepared separately and later combined, avoid dirtying extra bowls and pots. If dry ingredients should be mixed in a large, deep bowl to allow room for liquid ingredients later, say so.

Prepare the dish yourself—again. Follow your own recipe step by step, and make corrections as needed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Autumn Lentil Salad

Lentils are pretty adorable to begin with, but look at these guys, all dressed up for the season:

How could I resist? With a little vinegar, mustard, and some vegetables and herbs, I put my festive lentils to use in this Lentil Salad from Veganomicon.

Rich in fiber and protein, this salad sticks to my ribs and keeps me full until late afternoon. I used Raye's Winter Garden Mustard, a delicious blend with dill, garlic and celery seed. Lentils are another healthy protein source that gets little respect outside the vegetarian community. But like any mildly-flavored protein, lentils rise to the occasion with assertive seasoning. They take only 20 minutes to cook and require no soaking, so I use them often in last minute lunches.

A packed lunch with leftover apple pie for dessert. Mmm, autumn.

Monday, October 26, 2009

3 Strikes and I'm Out

Thanksgiving is coming. Pie is a necessity. I can rock a homemade crust with wheat flour, so this weekend, I set out to find a workable gluten-free crust that doesn't rely on eggs to bind the flour together.

I began my rainy Saturday measuring and combining assorted flours to create a batch of high fiber mix, and another, starchier all-purpose flour from this Celiac book. Instead of committing these expensive, labor-intensive flour mixes to two-crust pies, I used Martha Stewart's Toasted Pecan Dough (as veganized and de-glutenized by kittee) to make a basic apple cinnamon pandowdy. (A pandowdy has only a top crust. It's supposed to look sloppy, so there was none of the usual anxiety or self-loathing regarding edge crimping.)

Since kittee's pandowdy crust turned out so firm and crusty, I followed her lead and used the high fiber mix. It came together in a ball and rolled easily, but sadly, the crust never set; when I tapped on it with a spoon after 40 minutes in the oven, it was still soft as dough. After it cooled, the crust was grainy and disintegrated into crumbs when sliced.

The crust and filling (MacIntosh slices, cinnamon, allspice, sugar, and a bit of gluten-free flour) tasted great, but the final product was more like an apple crisp than pie. Definitely edible, but not fit for company or Thanksgiving.

Next, I followed the recipe again using the high starch white rice flour mix. The crust was lighter, but similarly crumbly and disappointing.

Sunday morning I went in a different direction: blueberry, with a crust out of the aforementioned Celiac book. The author said the key to success with gluten-free crust is extended chilling. After 2 hours in the refrigerator, the dough was too dry to roll out; it came apart in chunks when I applied pressure. Apparently this is typical. Deflated, disappointed, too impatient to chill the dough and try again, I laid the broken crust on top of the filling, Bittman style.

In this pie I used 1 quart blueberries in syrup, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup tapioca starch.

The crust firmed up but did not really brown (that's cinnamon sugar on top). It tasted like regular pie crust. Should I try again, and add more water for increased flexibility?

There are other recipes; should I play around with egg substitutes? Should I give up on the dream of a gluten-free vegan pie crust that looks and tastes and behaves normally? Should I throw in the towel and go the ground nuts/dates/syrup route?

Three crummy pies in two days. Luckily, pie freezes well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

So, So Quaint

I'm fortunate to have a well-stocked farm stand a mile from my house. This fall, it's supplied me with pumpkins, apples, cider, root vegetables, and dried beans. I stopped by today for apples—I've been eating two or three Cortlands a day, and I'm going to attempt a gluten-free pie this weekend (wish me luck).

Tomorrow from noon to 4pm, The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association holds its annual Great Maine Apple Day at the Common Ground Educational Center in Unity. The event celebrates the diversity of Maine apples with tastings, cooking demonstrations, and cider making, as well as workshops on fruit tree pruning and Maine apple history. Vendors will be selling local organic apples and apple products. It sounds like nice way to spend a rainy afternoon. Maine readers, are any of you planning to go?

This is why October is better than all the other months.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Easy Cranberry Vinaigrette

Last week I finally got around to trying this Cranberry Vinaigrette recipe, clipped from a 2005 issue of Cooking Light. I found it too thick and too tart; it was more like unsweetened cranberry sauce than salad dressing. Left with a nearly full bag of cranberries, I altered the recipe and tried again. The second batch was still too thick, and I added too much sugar. The third time through, I simplified the recipe, adding more oil to dilute the tart flavors, and switching to mild apple cider vinegar. As the saying goes, third time's a good vinaigrette.

I like this on a salad of mixed greens, spinach, sliced apple, red onion, toasted pecans, and raw pepitas; the cranberries really jazz up these rich, earthy flavors. The nuts and seeds provide healthy fats, and the cranberries are packed with antioxidants.

Easy Cranberry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup whole raw cranberries, rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Purée all ingredients in blender. Serves 2.

Maine's cranberry harvest is going on right now. Find some local berries and try this easy, healthy salad dressing!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Courtesy of the Blue Binder: Tofu Salad Sandwich

Nothing fancy or gourmet today, just a humble, delicious tofu salad wrap. I found this recipe for Tofu Sandwich Spread years ago on allrecipes.com, and return to it when I need something quick, easy, and filling for packed lunches.

Like Soy Surprise or Lentil Loaf, Tofu Sandwich Spread is one of those recipe titles that frighten omnivores. Stop squirming, tofu-phobes: extra-firm bean curd is no bouncier than a hard-boiled egg, and I'll bet you'd eat an egg salad sandwich. Thanks to celery, green onion, mayo, and lemon juice, this tastes like the expensive vegetarian chicken salad I used to buy at Little Lad's and Whole Foods (maybe it tastes like real chicken salad, too, but I couldn't tell you).

This basic recipe lends itself to experimentation. I like to double the celery and green onion, and use vegenaise, gluten-free soy sauce, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Black olives make a good addition, as do shredded carrots, dijon mustard, and curry powder. I'll bet you can come up with all kinds of ways to help tofu salad sandwiches get the respect they deserve.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Risotto Tastes like a Big Warm Hug

Whenever I'm enjoying a bit of self-pity, I make butternut squash risotto. The classic pairing of empty starch with generous quantities of fat make it an ideal comfort food. Already this fall, I've eaten it three times.

This recipe, culled from a Williams-Sonoma autumn catalog, taught me how to cook risotto from scratch. It taught me how to caramelize onions. It taught me how to deglaze a pan with white wine. It made me love sage. This risotto was the first food I ever made that tasted good enough to serve in a restaurant. Enamored, I made it every week for months until my husband grew to hate butternut squash (more for me, fool).

Tips:

This recipe is easily veganized: substitute vegan margarine for butter and omit the cheese.

I typically use dried herbs at a ratio of 1 tablespoon fresh : 1 teaspoon dried.

One large yellow onion should yield 2/3 cup caramelized onions: slice into thin half moons and stir frequently in a bit of oil or margarine over low heat until sweet and browned, 15-20 minutes. Add a teensy bit of brown sugar if you choose.

Of course, the best part of making risotto is polishing off the wine remaining after you've deglazed the pan. If you're going to stand at the stove stirring non-stop for 30 minutes, you might as well keep it interesting, right?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Rice Are

Alongside my tall cookbooks, I keep a binder of recipes collected from newspapers, magazines, and blogs. I cut them out and print them with the best of intentions, but never get around to using most of them. A few recipes, though, have introduced me to new ingredients and ways of cooking, and steadily become regulars in my rotation. This week, I want to share with you the highlights of my blue binder.

I rarely buy food magazines (I already own so many neglected cookbooks), but a few years ago I splurged when a pecan-oatmeal pie sang to me from the cover of the Cooking Light Thanksgiving issue. That pie recipe alone was worth $4.95 (I haven't yet attempted to make it vegan or gluten-free), but the issue included other winners. This Wild Rice and Leek Soup supplanted potato leek soup in my repertoire; I make it five or six times each winter.

Over the years I've altered the recipe slightly, but not so much that I feel justified in reposting it here. Instead of cooking spray, I use a tablespoon of Earth Balance margarine. I substitute vegetable broth for chicken, use whatever potatoes I have on hand, and add a ton of black pepper. When I was vegetarian, I included the 1/4 cup of whipping cream at the end; now I just leave it out. You could substitute soy cream, but all you're adding is fat without flavor, and the soup doesn't need it.

Through this recipe I became familiar with wild rice, which isn't rice at all, but the seed of a water grass species native to the north central United States. Though it is usually combined with other grains in pre-mixed pilaf, the rich, mushroomy flavor and chewy texture of wild rice deserve showcasing on their own. Dried wild rice can be expensive, but it triples in volume when cooked, so a little goes a long way.

Now through Thanksgiving, Maine farmers harvest massive leeks, twice the size of any I've seen in grocery stores. One leek, sliced, gives me almost the three cups called for in this recipe. Earthy, understated thyme is a perfect match for wild rice and sweet, pungent leeks. Use fresh herbs if you have them, but 1 teaspoon of dried thyme works well in this soup.

This recipe for Wild Rice and Leek Soup is one of my all-time favorites; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gluten-free Rambling in Portland, Maine

I made a special trip to the big city yesterday, hoping to find a wide selection of gluten-free products at Whole Foods. If my local natural foods store has an aisle of gluten-free goods, I assumed Whole Foods would have a giant aisle. Instead, there was a measly endcap, with a few GF items sprinkled throughout the rest of the store. With the exception of cheap store-brand cashew butter, Whole Foods doesn't carry anything I can't find in Bangor. (Maybe there just aren't many GF products to be found? I'll repeat: being vegan is so much easier than being gluten-free.) My haul included breakfast cereal, corn flour, pretzels, graham crackers, fried corn kernels (like fritos, but not ground up yet—they'll become fritos in my belly), and some naturally gluten-free mangos.

After shopping, I headed to GRO Cafe, Maine's first raw vegan restaurant. I recharged with a cup of tea, and took some raw chocolates to go. I'm partial to the coconut, but blueberry is nice, too. I find raw chocolate a little grainier and more rich than traditional chocolate. All of GRO cafe's ingredients are gluten-free and vegan, with the exception of the locally-produced honey used to sweeten drinks and desserts.

I ended the day, once again, at Green Elephant. I know there are other vegetarian restaurants in Portland, but I can't break away. I hadn't visited since going gluten-free, and was disappointed to find my choices limited to one appetizer, one soup, and one entree. While I appreciate that Green Elephant's gluten-free options are labelled on the menu, I expected more from a health and diet-saavy restaurant specializing in a cuisine not known for bread. (It's silly and frustrating that tamari is the only ingredient preventing me from safely eating the peanut sauce, since gluten-free tamari is widely available.) These raw collard wraps, with carrot, cabbage, mango, cilantro, and a tamarind dipping sauce were crunchy and delicious, but I missed my fresh rolls.

Next I ate Tofu Tikka Masala, with spinach, edamame, and chick peas served on rice. The tofu, Camden's own Heiwa, was the firmest, heartiest 'fu I've ever eaten.

I've got lots of cooking, house painting, and an all-day sock class planned for this weekend. We're already halfway through Vegan MoFo, can you believe it?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Boo!

This sweet, spooky, portable guy looks straight out of Vegan Lunch Box. He'd liven up any third grade Halloween party, but at my house, grown-ups pack this sort of thing for lunch.

I've finally found a use for all those holiday-themed cookie cutters I bought last summer, before I gave up gluten. I followed this recipe for classic Rice Krispies Treats, using vegan margarine, Dandies vegan marshmallows, and Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal (Kellogg's Rice Krispies are sweetened with barley malt).

Call me simple, but nothing brightens my day like a dessert with chocolate eyeballs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Baked Beans, Lucky Me

With the temperature below freezing this morning and frost still on the grass, I began a slow-cooking batch of that classic New England comfort food, baked beans. The recipe I follow most often, from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, is a sweet, mild mix of beans, winter vegetables, molasses, mustard, allspice, and dark rum (I keep a bottle on hand for just these occasions; it makes me feel like a pirate). Sometimes, if I'm in a cowboy mood, I use a recipe for Smokey Maple Baked Beans from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook, with lots of chipotle, jalapeno, and syrup. I especially like them poured over a naturally gluten-free baked potato.

This evening, for the first time since April, I needed mittens to walk the dogs. Nothing warms me up from the inside out like a bowl of hot baked beans.

Do you have a favorite baked bean recipe?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

The under-appreciated pairing of pumpkin and dark chocolate brings tears to my eyes. You'll find the recipe for these Halloween-y cupcakes at Maine Food & Lifestyle. I developed it this summer, as a back up for my Bangor Metro Food File. I wasn't gluten-free then, and neither are these cupcakes. I intended to work up a GF version this weekend, but I was out of pumpkin, so sucks to my ass-mar.

Monday, October 12, 2009

(Naturally) Gluten Free Vegan Treats: Mulled Apple Cider

There's nothing like coming in from hours of raking on a cold October afternoon to a steaming mug of mulled cider. I worked off of this recipe but made a few changes. Cider's sweet enough without adding brown sugar, if you ask me.

Mulled Apple Cider

8 cups fresh, unfiltered apple cider
1 orange with peel, quartered
15 cloves
4 3-inch sticks of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
7 pods of cardamom
3 star anise

Bring all ingredients to a low boil in a large saucepan. Cover and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes. Pour hot cider through a fine mesh strainer into mugs or a heat proof pitcher.

Makes 8 cups.

(See those warm cozy mittens? I macht them.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sea Salt Winner and a Gently Used Recipe

The winner of the Maine Sea Salt gift pack is Sarah, of Feeding Tiny Vegans, who shared the following:

"the closest i can come to a swimming in frigid maine water story re: fort foster in kittery. it's rocky and smells and my daughter freaks when we go there."

This sea salt is from way up near New Brunswick, and smells like delicious. Your daughter may indeed freak out, from joy, when she tastes popcorn with apple smoked salt. Sarah, send me your mailing address asap!

I chose the winner by writing all the participants' names on sticky notes and then pulling one out of a hat. This seemed more official to me than random number generator. (I just couldn't stop hitting that generate button. Trying to predict which of 53 numbers will randomly appear is endlessly fascinating.)

I ran out of time to cook today before it got too dark for pictures, so I'll use one of my Get Out of a MoFo Post Free cards and direct you to something I published elsewhere. My local city magazine, the Bangor Metro, featured me in their October Food File. You can read the article here. In the print edition, there was also a nice sidebar with vegan meal ideas for dinner parties. A recipe for Smokey Black Bean Stew with Winter Squash accompanied the article. It's not online, so I'm going to reprint it here. A slow-cooked stew with cinnamon, cocoa, and dried chili peppers, it's perfect for an autumn weekend.

Smokey Black Bean Stew with Winter Squash

2 cups dried black beans
2 cups vegetable broth
14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 dried jalapeño chilies (remove seeds to reduce heat)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
12 ounces dark ale or water

Soak beans overnight, for a minimum of 8 hours.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring broth, tomatoes and liquid, and jalapeños to a low boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Purée in a blender or food processor and set aside. Drain and rinse black beans.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned. Add cumin, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, and stir for 1 minute. Add beans, tomato mixture, and beer. Add water if more liquid is needed to cover beans.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer gently for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until beans are soft. Add more water if beans become dry.

To serve, scoop into roasted acorn squash halves.

Serves 6.

Roasted Acorn Squash

3 acorn squash
olive oil
brown sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 400°F. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Brush with oil and rub, sparingly, with brown sugar (if desired). Place on a large baking sheet, cut side up, and roast for 40-60 minutes, until tender.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

(Naturally) Gluten-free Vegan Treats: Roasted Chickpeas

Chickpeas are, without a doubt, my favorite legume. Hearty and satisfying, they're full of protein, iron and fiber, and they get along with almost every type of seasoning. I always feel good after eating them.

In celebrating simple gluten-free vegan treats, we've done sweet, salty, sweet, and now we'll have more salt. I've wanted to roast chickpeas for the longest time, but never gotten around to it. This week provided the perfect opportunity; I have a huge container of cooked chickpeas in the fridge.

There are almost as many roasted chickpea recipes as there are food blogs (I realize I am late to jump on this trend), but I worked off of SusanV's at FatFree Vegan Kitchen, because I liked her photos. I improvised the seasoning, standing before my spice cupboard and pulling out what sounded good. Here is what I used:

1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
less than 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
less than 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Toss everything until evenly coated. Bake on a cookie sheet at 400F for 45 minutes, stirring every 15.

Nutty, salty, and crunchy, roasted chickpeas remind me of those soy nuts that used to be so popular. The touch of cinnamon is key, and I especially like the burnt ones. Roasted chickpeas satisfy my after work snack cravings, and they're so much better for me than Fritos!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

(Naturally) Gluten-free Vegan Treats: Homemade Maple Candy

Maple candy brings back memories of teenage loitering, wandering between shops along the main drag of my chintzy hometown, spending my babysitting money on sugar, salt, and Hypercolor jackets. Pure maple sugar, concentrated in the figure of a quaint leaf or lighthouse, flooded our brains and fueled the many evenings of pointless hyperactivity.

I bought some maple candy recently at the fair, and it powered me through the crafts tent at the end of a long day. I realized then that maple candy, though a one-way ticket to diabetes in any significant quantity, is practically a whole food! It has only one ingredient! And it comes from trees!

Maple candy can get expensive. Making your own at home is cheaper, and not too difficult. Half of an $18 quart of syrup gave me one pound of candy, enough to cause a racing pulse and blackouts. Not a bad deal.

I followed this recipe, and I have a few hints:

1. Use a tall pot. When the syrup hits its boiling point, a cloud of sticky, burning froth will rise up in a flash. I don't need to tell you how much it would hurt to get this maple magma on your hands, or how awful it would be if hot syrup hardened instantly on your stovetop. So use a tall pot.

2. You'll need a candy thermometer. They are not expensive.

3. While the syrup boils in step 5, don't leave the stove. Stand there, breathing in maple fumes, while you wait for the exact moment the syrup reaches its desired temperature. This happens quickly!

4. In step 7, stir only until "the liquid loses its gloss and starts to become opaque." If you wait too long the syrup will harden as you try to pour it into your molds. I stirred too long, and the heart and star above were the only candies I managed to get into my teeny tiny bundt pan. The rest look like lumpy (but delicious) rocks.

Wouldn't maple candy be perfect for Halloween? Or Christmas? Or today? Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

(Naturally) Gluten-Free Vegan Treats: Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Raw pumpkin is one of my top ten all-time favorite smells. Each fall when I slice into my first pumpkin, alongside the sweet aroma of good, healthy dirt I catch whiffs of late autumn frosts, chimney smoke, Halloween, and football.

I've been carving jack-o-lanterns since forever, but regretfully, I'd never toasted pumpkin seeds until last year. It always seemed like too much work to separate them from their slimy strings, not worth the effort for a simple seed. But oh, was I mistaken. Not only are pumpkin seeds easy to gather, when lightly oiled, salted, and toasted, they are superior to any potato chip on Earth, rich and crunchy with a dry, nutty flavor like burnt popcorn. I ate my first batch in one shot, straight off the cookie sheet.

Both of these are pumpkins. The squat orange fellow is your traditional October door step variety, while the long green guy is a called a long pie. Grown for their narrow seed cavity, long pie pumpkins yield more flesh per pound than other varieties. Their seeds are fewer and easier to remove than those of jack-o-lantern and sugar pumpkins. Long pies are mostly green when harvested and turn orange as they ripen.

As you can see, the Long Pie is dense and the guts are easily scooped away. A good choice for baking, but I'm after seeds.

The small round pumpkin had a much larger cavity and held three times as many seeds.

To gather seeds for toasting, scoop all the pumpkin innards into a large bowl. Separate and discard any large stringy pieces (this is fun—pure preschool sensory joy). Cover the seeds with a few inches of cool water, and swish your hands around in the bowl. Most of the seeds will float to the surface; scoop them out onto a kitchen towel. Work the remaining seeds free of their strings. Discard the orange goop and rinse the seeds clean.

Dry seeds will toast faster, but drying them is not necessary. Some websites will tell you to use a blow dryer; I found this ineffective and I felt stupid doing it. Just pat the seeds as dry as you can, and toss them with enough olive oil to coat. Spread the seeds on a large baking sheet and season with sea salt, black pepper, chili pepper, cinnamon, or anything else that strikes your fancy. (I used a mixture of plain and smoked sea salt, and they were phenomenal.)

Toast the seeds at 300F for 5 minutes, then toss them. Keep checking on them and tossing every 5 minutes until they're light brown and beginning to smell wonderful. How long this will take depends on how wet your seeds were; mine were pretty wet and took about 35 minutes. Allow the seeds to cool on a paper towel for a few minutes before diving in. Just try to stop yourself from eating them all at once.

Your next project is to peel, chop, and cook the pumpkin, but you can do that after your snack.

These pumpkins together yielded a little more than 1 cup of seeds. Toasted pumpkin seeds keep up to one week in a sealed container.

Monday, October 5, 2009

(Naturally) Gluten-Free Vegan Treats: Homemade Applesauce

As you may have read a few weeks ago, Celiac Disease has turned my cooking, eating, and food writing life upside down. I'm back to square one, learning all over again how to bake, grocery shop, and eat in restaurants. Avoiding gluten is much trickier than avoiding animal products.

For the first full week of the Vegan Month of Food, I've decided to celebrate foods that are naturally vegan and gluten-free: no altering, veganizing, or substitutions necessary. I'll attempt to rekindle my sense of self-worth in the kitchen (GF baking is not going well), and respond to those who declare, puzzlingly, that they "just don't like vegetarian food." (What these folks are really saying is that they lack imagination and are afraid of lentils; I wonder if they would refuse apple pie, or potato chips, or a bacon-free banana split.) This week I'll highlight autumn foods loved by even the most dedicated carnivores, foods that are easy to find or prepare, and which contain no meat, eggs, dairy, or gluten.

I'll begin with that October classic, homemade applesauce. Apple picking is my all-time favorite: nothing beats a cool fall day, kicking up the dry leaves between the rows of trees. Unfortunately, we've had some rainy weekends and haven't made it to the orchard yet. Instead, I picked up a a half-peck bag of MacIntosh at Saturday's rainy farmers' market (what crazy system of measurement is this?). Without a food mill, I'm peeling and coring and slicing by hand, so I make apple sauce in small batches. It requires no recipe, just a large pot, a vegetable peeler, a paring knife, and some patience.

I put the peeled and sliced apples in a large pot with 2 cups of water (you can use apple juice or cider, I was just being cheap) and a cinnamon stick. No sugar needed. I brought the water to a boil over medium-high heat, then covered the pot and reduced the heat to medium-low. Ten minutes later, I had steaming apple mush. I removed the cinnamon stick, took the pot off the stove, and went at it briefly with a potato masher. Voila! Local apple sauce that's cheaper, healthier, and tastier than store bought.

This made about 8 cups of applesauce. I froze most of it in two cup portions, which I'll bake with all winter. If you want applesauce for snacking or stirring into oatmeal, try tossing maple syrup, lemon juice, or other fruits into the pot (wouldn't pears be nice?).

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Salty Giveaway

I stumbled upon the Maine Sea Salt Company at last weekend's Common Ground Country Fair. The company, based in Marshfield, employs sun and wind to speed the evaporation of seawater and harvest the natural salt. I wasn't planning to buy salt, since I had plenty at home, but once I tasted this smoked salt my imagination went wild. Smoked over a fire of apple wood, this salt has a deep, woody, slightly sweet flavor. Hickory smoked salt is deeper and darker.

The ingredients and preparation couldn't be simpler, but this packs incredibly rich flavor. It makes boring sliced cucumbers irresistible, and takes oven roasted potatoes to a whole new level. Smoked salt popcorn? Oh my, yes. And how about corn on the cob? Smoked salt would enhance tempeh bacon, seitan sausages, or any recipe that calls for liquid smoke.

Maine Sea Salt is available in specialty food shops across southern and central Maine and online, or you can win a taste of the North Atlantic: Maine Sea Salt will send a gift pack containing three salt grinders (apple smoked, hickory smoked, and natural) to one lucky reader! To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post about your favorite use for sea salt. Amusing stories about swimming off the frigid coast of Maine may earn brownie points. I'll randomly choose a winner next Friday, October 9 (sorry, US residents only). What a way to kick off Vegan MoFo. Best of luck!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Party Snacks for VeganMofo 2009

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October has arrived, and with it the 3rd annual Vegan Month of Food, a grassroots effort to show the world how fun, easy, and delicious vegan food can be. Participating bloggers have pledged to post every weekday during October, on topics ranging from restaurants and travel to recipes and favorite fall foods. With over 320 blogs from around the world participating, Vegan MoFo III promises to be a tremendous showcase for the wide and varied world of vegan food.

You can find the alphabetized list of all participating blogs at Cake Maker to the Stars. Also check out the public RSS feed, where you can browse the latest posts from all the participating blogs in one place.

Today and tomorrow, I'm going to highlight some spectacular local products. Little Lad's Herbal Popcorn is familiar to most Mainers. It's been sold at health food stores across the state for years, and now that it's been picked up by Whole Foods, this nutritious, beguiling, and completely addictive snack is set to take over the western world. (It even has its own facebook!)

When I was a vegan teenager in the late 90s, Little Lad's was the only spot in southern Maine offering healthy, inexpensive, animal-free food. Portland's vegan scene has expanded rapidly in the last decade, but Little Lad's remains a constant, serving $5 buffet lunches at their Congress Street location. They also have a restaurant in lower Manhattan.

Every meal comes with a helping of popcorn tossed with dill, garlic salt, and vitamin-rich nutritional yeast. This salty, buttery, cheesy snack is so much more than the sum of its simple ingredients. When I have a bag at home, I cannot tear myself away. I shamelessly stuff my mouth and reach for more, until I'm staring at an empty bag the size of my pillowcase. I ate at least ten cups at lunch today, and then I licked the herbs from the bottom of my bowl.

In Bangor, the Natural Living Center and Giacomo's carry Little Lad's Herbal Popcorn. It is also available at many Whole Foods locations across the country. If you can't find it near you, Avery Yale Kamila posted an improvised recipe a while back.

Herbal Popcorn is the perfect snack to kick off this party, a month of enthusiastic vegan food blogging. Enjoy Vegan MoFo, and happy snacking!