Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Vegan Cupcake Story

This is a vegan food lover's story and how the gift of food keeps on giving. I can count on one hand the number of times someone has baked for me. More like on one finger the number of times someone has baked for me since becoming vegan. There is just something about someone else's baking. It somehow takes on this magic aura and yumminess that is unattainable when one bakes for oneself.

It's no secret: I love confections of all kind. I take great comfort in all things sweet and all things from the oven. So when Mr. Thyme came home last week with a plastic carton and handed it to me saying it was for me, I nearly cried. "Seriously?. . .  For me? OMG! What is it?" (In a nano-second I lifted the lid to see this amazing frosted huge cupcake!) "This is for me?" "Yes." I was still in shock, then had to have all the details. I was my skeptic self, "So this isn't left over from an office party or something?" "No. It's from so-and-so (a fellow vegan) and she thought you might like it." I thought, Might? Look at it! It's a giant cupcake AND it's frosted with chocolate icing! What's not to like already? Of course, best of all, she is a vegan, too! (And how incredibly sweet is it of her to think of me and I did send her a personal note with many thanks--I was just so touched by this kindness--to think of sharing her baking with me!) And then, dessert for the next two nights was taken care of.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vegan Artichoke Herb Tofu Ricotta Ravioli (Millet Potato Sesame Seed Ciabatta And Black Garlic Surprise!)

I'm being a realist here. I don't expect many folks to jump up and make this meal. Not everyone has three hours to prep for a meal. But for the record, let me say--this meal was divine. Really divine. (I could have offered you a better picture--I know the white on white doesn't offer much, but it WAS really late when we ate, and I wanted an outside shot!) This was a restaurant quality, savor-every-bite sort of meal. Making your own pasta dough transcends any kitchen experience one can have--plus uses up nearly every inch of counter space available, and as an added bonus, uses nearly every kitchen appliance, too. (I didn't use the toaster or hand blender.) I made a saffron, garlic and shallot cashew cream sauce to accompany this wonderful dish inspired by chef Tal Ronnen and his cookbook: The Conscious Cook. Uber creaminess of the cashews compliments of the Vitamix blender, of course! How to make cashew cream? Easy. Boil 2 cups cashews for about five minutes. Drain. Place in Vitamixer and cover with cold water. Blend until smooth! To flavor sauce, saute any onion, garlic or herb you'd like, then add a bit of cooking wine, allow to reduce, add your cashew cream--make it your own! So easy and simply amazing!
This is the stuffing--or what was left of the stuffing. Very, very simple and could suffice as a sauce for tossing with almost any pasta rather than just used as a stuffed pasta filling. 

1 can artichokes drained, chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
1 small shallot minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup white cooking wine
1 cup cashew cream
Heat a couple swirls of olive oil in a saute pan. Add artichokes, garlic, shallots and seasonings. Cook for about five minutes over medium heat. Add cooking wine. Allow to reduce for ten minutes. Then add cashew cream. Easy! Delish, too!
 I adapted Tal Ronnen's "Artichoke Ricotta Tortellini with Saffron Cream Sauce" recipe in The Conscious Cook and gave it my own spin, not least of which was using ravioli instead. It is quite amazing in its simplicity, but quite time consuming as well. I longed for a sous chef yesterday.
I like photos of freshly rolled pasta. (Some elbow grease and hard work went into these.) I used "oo" flour in my dough that I bought at an Italian grocery store here in St. Louis. I adapted Chef Tal's recipe for homemade vegan pasta dough this way: He calls for red palm oil to impart the egg yolk color. I opted for a pinch of tumeric. In place of the red palm oil amount, I added another tablespoon of olive oil. The Vancouver Sun ran a piece that included his recipe for the dough. You can use my changes and trust that the dough will still be amazing in both its color and texture. In my opinion, the "oo" flour however, makes a huge difference vs. using semolina.
Millet Potato Sesame Seed Ciabatta Loaf--in the bread machine. (Again with the bread, Kelly! I know, I know.) This bread was a happy accident as I made a change to the recipe from--what else, only one of my favorite cookbooks ever--The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. She called for potato flakes and since I never have any of those hanging around, I used a real russet potato instead. After a bit of an OMG moment when I saw the dough in the machine, things calmed down a bit when I started grabbing handfuls of bread flour and adding it in. Instead of telling you "handfuls of flour"--my recipe adaptation is below. 
This mysterious little package of wonder: black garlic.

As I already stated, I know everyone out there doesn't have three hours to spend in the kitchen. I barely got this meal together myself because of all of the steps involved in prepping and planning. If I were a better planner, perhaps I would have had the bread baked the day before. But that's not how I roll. I am much more of a "I'm-in-the-mood-for-this-NOW" sort of cook. I've said this before, it would be very hard for me to be a chef and have to stick to the menu all the time and not just wing it. It might leave me cranky.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Creamy Vegan Tomato Soup: Hello Vitamix! Hello Humidity! Goodbye Ten Pounds!

Vegan Thyme: Creamy Vegan Tomato Soup: Hello Vitamix! Hello Humidity! Goodbye Ten Pounds!

Vegan tomato soup in Vitamix
Day One. I waited like a child on Christmas Eve for dinner to roll around. I had my new Vitamix Blender unpacked. I watched the "How-To All Things Vitamix" dvd with Michael Symon (Food Network dude). I set my ingredients out for our Vitamix christening--Mr. Thyme's favorite:
Warm Creamy Vegan Tomato Soup
 1-28 oz. can whole tomatoes
5 cloves garlic
 1 package cherry tomatoes
1 chopped green pepper
1/2 avacado (for creamy texture)
1/2 onion
1 stick celery 
2 carrots
4 stems fresh basil
3 stems fresh oregano
1 veggie boullion cube
 3 cups water
fresh ground pepper
dash of chipolte seasoning
dash of cayenne pepper
Press On. Turn dial to 10. Flip from Variable to High Speed. Hold there for five minutes. Wait for steam to begin coming from the top. Viola! Soup's on--and it's warmed!  

Hello new Vitamix blender! This was purchased at a nicely appointed store (Williams Sonoma) which my credit card had never seen the likes of before. . . and won't ever again for a while. Cripes, this cost as much as my scratch and dent Maytag stove I bought two years ago. Gulp. I tried to locate a Vitamixer at an Everything's A Dollar store, but alas, they don't stock it there. Darn. Well, as you can see, my kitchen lacks space! And no, the cookbooks are not moving. And no, I don't need a fifty thousand dollar kitchen remodel--thank you very much. I love my cozy little cooking lab: a sink, stove, fridge and bookshelves.

Day Two. I waited all morning for my first Green Smoothie. The apple is not peeled, nor cored. You can toss the whole thing in! (Just be sure to peel off that sticker code.) We were in for some hot-hot-hot and humid weather. I was in for some major pounds to melt off as I spent all day Saturday and Sunday outside, planting, mowing, weeding, trimming, running, walking. St. Louis decided to skip spring and jumped right into the July-ness heat and humidity this weekend. Let me tell you, it takes stamina to be a Southern Midwestener.

Mmmm. Green Smoothie for breakfast. After a hard five-mile run with my Saturday morning running group. Starts at seven sharp. Forty-five minutes later, we are all just covered in sweat--good pound melting sweat! A smooth as silk smoothie awaited me when I got home. Deeelish!
Then Sunday rolled around. I went out to get the paper in my half fog, sleepy head self, only to stop in my tracks to look closer at this grey blob on the ground. (My specs were inside.) After I got my glasses on, I realized I missed stepping on this little punkin' pie by about two inches! OMG, he's one of the baby cardinals mama cardinal had kicked out of the nest! Ready for the new world and wondering who I was and why I didn't have chewed up bird food to spit up into its mouth. . . isn't that the most adorable thing in the world? (The baby, not the spit up bird food!)
After our smoothie and pancake breakfast Sunday, we went for a hike. (Yes, I said smootie and pancakes--we had some miles to cover!) A beautiful, lush Mississippi River waited for us. The rains we've had have contributed to some flooding along the river banks. Regardless, nothing is more beautiful than the Mississippi River in the morning. Okay, a little muddy. But still.
Who is that super energetic couple over there? They act like they've just had a green smoothie breakfast in their Vitamixer!
I spotted this blue heron along the lake in the park. (Mr. Thyme calls me "Crow Woman". I can spot things like a crow because I'm so far-sighted.) I stopped and tried to walk really close to it. My photo attempts were hard to grapple with because my specs were at home, so I handed the camera to MT and he swung the lens up just in time to capture this beautiful bird taking off in flight. They are breathtaking birds to watch and we'd never been this close to one before. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Softest Italian Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls Ever with Wickedly Good Vegan Lasagna . . . Channeling Lucille Ball in The Garden at Dusk

Vegan Thyme: Softest Italian Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls Ever with Wickedly Good Vegan Lasagna . . . Channeling Lucille Ball in The Garden at Dusk
These rolls were nothing short of incredible. No, really. There were collective sighs and Mmm's and Ahhh's going on as we took each bite. When we woke this morning, the kitchen still held the sweet, herb-ey, dough-ey aroma from them baking last night. (If I could get Glade to put that into a Plug-In, I know I'd be one rich woman.)
I love lasagna. It's not rocket science. It's whatever you want it to be. I love it even more when I am met with perfect layers of goodness and a nicely appointed tofu ricotta. This lasagna came together without much thought and was inspired by what we had in the veggie bins in the fridge and freezer. (Helpful hint: always have frozen chopped spinach on hand for these last minute moments of lasagna clarity.) For recipe: Take whatever you have on hand and saute, then layer it. To make the tofu ricotta, add two tablespoons of nutritional yeast to a well-drained package of extra firm tofu that you've crumbled in a bowl. Add some garlic powder and onion powder and other Italian-ish seasonings, maybe some salt and. . . layer it in. So easy. I also used a jar of marinara. I just needed easy, but tasty last night.
 I love zinnias and planted some throughout my Square Foot Garden. After another entire day of rain, I stepped outside and was overwhelmed with how gorgeous and green everything looked. Grant it, my mood took a hit with yet another completely sun-less day, but found beauty in the aftermath as I stepped outside my kitchen door.

The cucumbers are a-bloomin'. I can hardly wait. Then, my thoughts wandered to the variety of veggies I'll soon be harvesting and how these little bundles of food might work in, say, a green smoothie! But I don't want to go getting all "hippy-dippy" earth mama on you here, I'm just saying my mind wandered is all.

The countdown to Roma tomatoes begins. How perfect is this little sprout?
Mmm . . . jars of homemade spaghetti sauce.
In daisy I trust.

Somewhere between, "OMG, not another day of rain and two more inches of water on my already saturated garden" I looked outside and was overcome with the lush landscape. So I grabbed my camera at about seven o'clock in the evening and began taking these pictures. It was so cool the past few days it warranted slippers and socks and layers. . . Slippers and Socks and Layers Oh My! The weather forecast calls for 90s this weekend and plenty of humidity. If you've ever wondered what it might feel like to live in a swamp, well right about now would be a good time to visit Missouri to find out.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vegan Coconut Layer Cake (Quilting Bee, Cutting Corners And Oodles of Needles)

Vegan Thyme: Vegan Coconut Layer Cake
I love coconut. My love of coconut in cake form began with the first frozen Sara Lee Coconut Cake my mother brought home and hid in the freezer. My love of coconut in candy bar form began with my first Almond Joy. It was all down hill from there. Then Saturday as I tinkered away on my sewing machine, watching America's Test Kitchen, Christopher Kimball (who can sometimes wear on my nerves) was all agog about their "tested" coconut layer cake recipe and the "perfected" version they'd created--lots of mmmm's and ahhhhh's later, I was in my kitchen whipping this darling up my way: vegan. ATK should be called: Testing And Making The "Best" of Any And All things Bad for You. Seriously, it's not a show I'd recommend to anyone diabetic or on a strict eating regimen.
Vegan Coconut Layer Cake

I had to show the full monty here. This cake screams to either be taken to a wedding or eaten.
We opted for "eating". 
That's what happens when you are almost fifty--hormones rule and guide and you must abide by their calling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Comfort Queen: Vegan Match Meats Chicken with Wild Rice And Mushrooms Casserole (And Other Pithy Comments)

It's always "casserole" weather in this house. Could be a hundred outside. If I have a hankering for a one-pot baked pile of yum, then that's what I'm making. I don't shy away from the foods of the "soul". This dish is a basic that is so down home, you'll be looking for a funeral to take it to. When I was putting this together and realized that the amount I had just poured into my neat little 9 x 13 casserole dish was enough to feed a family of eight comfortably (plus allow for an upper arm workout from the lifting of the dish from the oven)--well, I could only think of one thing--how many nights would we be eating this and how many different ways might I be able to sneak this into a salad or wrap. I was so wrong on the family of eight thing. Mr.Thyme and I chowed at least half of this in our first night. We gladly ate it again for dinner the next night, then another day for lunch using it in, what else: wraps. Yum.

Last night, after we all went to bed, we got a downpour so heavy that it rained like an inch in twenty minutes. Not really a Nashville situation here yet, but let me say, it is really lush and deep green outside now. I was kept awake from three a.m. until five a.m. by some very worried canines who were crawling over my head and arms attempting to hide from all the lightening and thunder. Real fun. Then the power went out. We're in for more rain, and more storms today and tonight. Such is life in the Midwest in Spring.

As vegan foods go, my goal has always been to pretty much feed myself the way I've always liked to eat: heartily and robustly. I've always had an appetite and it runs on the not-so-much bean and sprout variety. I tracked a lot of vegan food blogs prior to beginning my own. Spent many a dollar on vegan cookbooks--and must say, many of those cookbooks barely get touched--sometimes, but not a lot. I also really and truly tried to love tofu. I do not love tofu. Nor do I love beans and sprouts. Eating cruelty free for me made sense--that's not up for debate, but my vegan food also had to be good food defined by "my good". 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Vegan Decadent Chocolate Cake with Gourmet Chocolate (For Mom: Taking Barefoot Contessa Vegan)

I don't know how many times I've come home from my library with the Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten cookbook. I'd bet it was at least a half dozen times. Every time I look at the somewhat lacking cookbook collection at my library (I'm not even going to address a "vegetarian" selection here), I find I reach for Ina. She comforts. She is like a mother. She has a way of cooking that eases my mind, and comforts me. She's not all coordinated and matchy-matchy in her sets, she is more like, "Hey, I bet so and so would love this--they'll be here at six, let's see what I can find at the local produce stand and pull this together!" She is simplicity and grace. All except for that "meat" she uses, I can almost always find something within the pages of her cookbooks that calls me to the kitchen. On this very difficult weekend it was Beatty's Chocolate Cake that beckoned me. Lucky for all of us, this recipe is readily available to both vegans and non alike from the Food Network website. Thank god for small miracles. With over 760 reviews and a five-star rating, I figure I am not the only one in the world who finds Ina to be of great inspiration. If you decide to vegan-ize this, here's the usual suspects of changes I made--and plus, I had some of that amazing Intemperantia chocolate waiting for me!

Beatty's Chocolate Cake Made Vegan 
-sub 2 eggs with Ener-G Egg Replacer equivalent
-sub buttermilk for vegan version (take 1 cup unsweetened soy milk and add 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar)
-certainly use gourmet cocoa powder (and I happened to have some!)
-sub with 1 cup instant de-caff. coffee crystals for her 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I keep a jar of this in the fridge for baking when it calls for "coffee" which I would never add anything but decaf to any chocolate pastry or I would be bouncing off the walls--I get hyper as it is with the chocolate!)
-Note: when you bake this, you may find the cake sinks a bit in the middle. If you pull it out too soon or your oven temp. is not right, this may be the problem. Just don't freak out. Simply turn one of the layers over and put the top "dipped part" facing down and--add more frosting to the topping and in the middle if there is another "dip", and all will be fine! I even tried to re-bake the cake--I would say give it a good 45 minutes in the oven.
For the frosting:
-I used the melted chocolate squares from Intemperantia and I swear, the frosting tasted like velvet!
-I did not use any coffee crystals in this--see my comment above
-I did not use an egg yolk--totally not necessary. Just amp up the powdered sugar and use veggie margerine and a dash of vanilla extract and all will be fine.
I carry a heavy sorrow on Mother's Day weekend. I am a Motherless Daughter. (Which actually is the name of a book written by Hope Edelman and was given to my by one of my dear friends when my mother passed away nearly thirteen years ago. It was one of the most cathartic moments of my life, reading this book.) I want to dedicate this cake to my mom. She was not huge on chocolate like I am. She was more of an Angel Food cake gal. Always with the angel food cakes. She'd pick them apart like she was eating monkey bread. They were always in our home. That and sleeves of powdered donuts. But this is about my Mother's Day and for me, it's chocolate all the way. Sorry mom. 

My mother and I had, what can I call it, a difficult relationship. Difficult. That's the word. I am the oldest of her two daughters. I was also "unplanned" resulting in her having a shot gun wedding to my father. I was told many talks took place over the "proper" course of action and who would make what decision in all things having me. My maternal grandmother was a huge influence in my life--thankfully, taking the lead on many of the decisions involved in raising me. I could do an entire blog post on her.

My mom was adopted out of an orphanage when she was over a year old. What this had done to her mentally and emotionally, one can only guess. Many others have had the same fate and lived great lives. I would say my mother's life was not "great". But we always had a roof over our heads, clothing and food. (Not that I'd classify pork steak as food, but it was a pretty regular centerpiece in my meal time non-fond memories). 

My mom took great pride in appearances. Looks counted. Once when she was recovering from a horrible procedure, lying in the hospital bed, just awake, her second question, after, "Can you hand me my cigarettes" was, "How's my hair, do I look like a zoot suit?" A zoot suit. Seriously? She had the blackest hair of any woman I had ever known. She wore it in a pretty, short pixie most of her life. And whatever wasn't black, promptly became black thanks to Loreal or Miss Clairol. I am so happy my mother had short hair, it took courage to wear it short, it still takes courage to wear short hair and this she passed on to me.

She was beautiful. Once when she was on vacation in Hawaii with her mom and dad (she was the only child my grandparents ever had), Harry Belafonte asked her if she needed a ride--or tried to pick her up. (Now, if this wasn't him--it sure looked like him, so my mom relayed to me--he was a big deal back then, I'm sure it was him.) She had starlet qualities. She dated a mobster at one point. (I'm not sure I can say this on a blog, but I am anyway.) We were living outside of Chicago at the time. Mobs were really in then. She once met Sam Giancana, a notorious Chicago mobster (John Turturro plays him in the movie Sugartime) while on a date with another of his "mob" buddies. Who, by the way, happened to drive her around in a black limo. I have very clear memories of this--and of the shoes he lavished on my six year old self. Then, she sort of took a different course and married, and married, and married. I was left wondering why the mobster relationship never lasted. As you can imagine, I am a huge fan of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

My mother was also the first loner I had ever met. She really enjoyed her own company. Or maybe she enjoyed other company less. (I totally inherited this from her.) She was secretive. She was not someone who met you and trusted you right away. She liked the underdogs. She loved watching cooking television. (Not so much the cooking itself--though she collected some cookbooks.) She worked best alone. She did the "group" work stuff on and off--but she really thrived alone. She could smile and in a way, make you feel welcome. She could also look at you with a sinister smirk that was enough to make many of my "would be" boyfriends shrink from her sight. The only reason Mr. Thyme made the cut was because of my mother. The first time she met him, she pulled me down close and said, "Now this one's a keeper." (Not to go into the past too much, but marriage and I are familiar.) And that pretty much sealed the deal. Plus I was tired of men and dating at this point and timing is everything you know. Truth be told, I was sure in my own way, this was "the one" but with mom's blessing, I really had no other choice but to abide.

I am not a father's daughter. I am a mother's daughter. I will say that her life impacted me more than I am probably willing to admit, even at this tender age of "almost fifty". I can also say that what I learned from her was that in this life, you get one chance, if it takes you four or more times to get it right, so be it. Life is what it is. And then it's not. And one of my favorite mom-isms: Do as say, not as I do. So I try really hard to not do as she did, but to do it as I think she would want me to do it.

I'll leave this final little noteworthy thing about my mother here. (And I am sure as the Mother's Day years pass, I will have many more mom memories to share, or maybe not.) But after she died, I was going through several of her drawers and her closet--the usual thing a grieving daughter does. In the back of her closet was this shopping bag and in it were these letters--over fifty of them. I looked at them, all neatly rubber banded together. I looked at the addresses. All from different women from across the country. All hand written! Turns out my mother had a sort of pen pal relationship created from this magazine she subscribed to: Victoria Magazine. How bizarre. As I read these letters in this perfect penmanship and mostly in cursive writing and on delicate stationary, I was struck with the intimacy the letters contained. Some shared stories about their own children, others about, well, about their Victorian pursuits--like their homes or furnishings. Others made inquiries about her and her health (my mom was sick for several years). I was stunned. I was at a loss for words. What was it she was writing to them? How had this pen pal relationship begun? Where were the people today? I still have these letters. This is my ghost of my mother. These women will never know I have a piece of them or that they have a precious piece of her. Happy Mother's Day.


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