Friday, September 30, 2011

Vegan Challah (Pecan Sticky-Bunned for That Old: When At First You Don't Succeed Baking Lesson!)

I wanted to bake fresh rolls to have with dinner last Saturday night. And because the planner in me has taken a vacation, I had about three hours to do so. Enter the bread machine. So, I flipped open one of my favorite cookbooks for all things dough, and found a challah recipe: Saffron and Olive Oil from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. Being a relative newbie to the world of challah, this sounded amazing. I was planning a pasta dish and saffron is one of my very favorite Crocus sativus. And typical of me, I began prepping for my bread machine recipe without giving any thought to reading the recipe all the way through. I'm sure you have a pretty good idea of where this is headed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vegan Chicken And Dumpling Casserole (Ultimate Comfort Food for What The Doc Said)

I've had a comfort food craving lately. So baked casseroles are de rigueur. I picked up this amazing book deal at Walmart Monday: Cook's Country Best Lost Suppers cookbook for seven bucks! Whoa. This is just what the doctor would order for me (if I had the stamina to see one, that is). I haven't been "book" shopping since Borders announced it's closing. I'm still too bitter to drag myself to a Barnes & Noble. Not yet. I really needed to literally "stumble" upon a book find like this. (There were only two on the shelf--just waiting for me!) The cookbook has been a dinner respite here for the past two nights. Going on three if you count this evening because I already have my mind set on another famous meal from this "Lost Treasure" collection. Sure, the cookbook's full of meat eater stuff, but as a veteran vegan, I can easily manage most, if not all the book's offerings as a vegan translation. And the very first recipe in the book beckoned me to do just that. The chicken and dumplings had my name all over it. I could not have been more pleased. It was the perfect salve for broken hearts. Dr. Thyme and I kept oohing and ahhing over this scrumptious dish of yum. The bisquits (or dumplings) are the key to this whole meal. Hubby proclaiming the dumplings "the best" and requested them in some future breakfast ensemble. Sometimes I think the cooking gods look out for me. Especially in my great despair at the unfairness of the it all. The world. Life. Everything.

Last Friday it became clear that our boy was not improving. I was in a state. I called our vet and made an appointement, barely able to speak other than answering the all-too-familiar question: What seems to be the matter? I stammered, He won't eat. And that was about all I could get out. The next morning was the first appointment available. When we arrived, the receptionist and I weighed him--I knew he'd lost weight because his leash and collar had had to be adjusted. She looked at me, I looked at her, then we went into "the room" where not one, but three of our kids in just the past two years had taken their last breath. It was about all I could do to not run out of the room screaming. To say my nerves have taken a beating would be an extreme understatement. I've not been sleeping well either. No wonder.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash And Garlic Soup with Pistachio Crumbles (Now Sewing "The Jacket" and Now Reading "The Help")

I know it's fall "officially" but I really didn't begin to feel fall until last night as the aroma of roasted butternut squash and a whole head of garlic began to fill the house. Now. It's. Fall. I bought a really good looking squash (not too big, not too small. . . just medium-ish) when they started to look like they might withstand a few weeks or longer on my kitchen counter. In this case, "longer" is the operative word--said squash was purchased about a month ago. I don't know why, but I find having a squash on hand during the months of September through March sort of an imperative. This little guy shared a spot in a bowl with some apples. I thought they made a nice arrangement. A "fall bounty" aesthetic. So now after having successfully enjoyed the heck out of this soup, I wonder if I've accidentally discovered a way to increase the shelf life of the butternut by pairing it with apples? Yes, these are the things I contemplate. Food shelf life. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vegan Coconut Cake with Coconut Buttercream Frosting (For The Fall Equinox . . . Or for The Heck of It)

It's a gorgeous day here in the holler! I nod thankfully toward the sun and my calendar in anticipation of the fall equinox this Friday. I may hit the local "pagan people" store and pick up some sage for a house cleansing. (And then will probably walk out with ten other pagan-like things I don't need: unicorns, crystal necklace, a meditation CD--which is a complete waste of money no matter how good the music sounds in the background at the store. I know not how to meditate. Never have. Dr. Thyme tried teaching me and I laughed so hard he threw his hands up in the air and walked away. The closest I come to "meditation" is nodding off to sleep with a book open on my lap right before bed.) Anyway. . . with sage smudge tools at hand, I'll walk through the house in the geographic order called for by our Native American brethren to cleanse and bestow upon our abode the blessings of health, good tidings, warmth and a white Christmas. (I don't think that's too much to ask from sage.) Yesterday our first cord of firewood was delivered. We've already christened the fireplace and had our first fire. So cozy. The temps are sneaky this time of year though. One day you hit eighty, the next, it's sixty. Sweater and wool slippers to tank top and shorts with flip flops. Welcome to the Midwest.
There was a special occasion recently that called for some vegan baking. I was considering all of the "best" cake recipes I had in my repetoire before settling on one of my all-time-never-fails-me favorites: coconut cake. The last time I made one of these I think I made the three-tier version. Every time I bake a vegan coconut cake, something new pops into mind in terms of how I might ratchet up the coconutty-ness of the flavor and I go with it, fingers crossed the whole way through. Cobbling together a few tips from two veteran baking idols: Ina Garten and Rose Levy Beranbaum, I was able to complete this amazingly delish celebratory homage to coconut cake.  
It's a gorgeous cake. It reminds me of snow and snow globes all at the same time.
What I loved most about baking this cake, aside from the fact that the batter was delectable--the cake itself rose to perfect little baked-up layers and it made me happier than you could possibly know. (Because I've been there too many times with cake messes in vegan translations, trust me.) Plus, I am a batter hog of the worst kind--sometimes nearly wanting to just consume the pre-cake mass and altogether skipping my original baking intentions. It's horrible, I know--this cake produced that kind of batter: spoon-lickin' good!

This cake stores best in the fridge. That way you can snack on it for a week or so. I think it gets better with time.

Vegan Coconut Cake
*Adapted from Ina Garten
Makes two 9-inch cakes

3 sticks unsalted vegetable margerine (cut into cubes and set out at room temp. for 30 minutes)
2 cups sugar
5 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replace mixed with 1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup of water (or the egg replacer of your choice equivalent to 5 eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (*this is mandatory--it really makes the cake that much better!)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (use the scoop and sweep method to measure the flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
zest of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 350. Line two 9" cake pans with parchment paper, then spray with non-stick baking spray. In a large mixing bowl (the stand mixer works best)--add the room temperature margerine and sugar and beat on medium speed for about five minutes until the mixture is very light and very fluffy. Next prepare the dry ingredients in a separate bowl--the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk well to combine. Set aside. Next, mix together the egg replacer powder with the water. Now, add this to the sugar mixture and beat on medium speed for another two minutes. Add the extracts to this and mix well. Now you add the milk and flour mixture in the following manner: first add a third of the flour and then a third of the milk to the sugar/egg mixture. Mix well after each addition--about fifteen seconds of mixing--then add another third of the flour mixture, another third of the milk and repeat this step until the flour and milk are all used. Remove the beaters from the bowl and fold in the shredded coconut and lemon zest to the batter with a spoon. Don't overmix it! Next, spread the batter in the cake pans and flatten with a spatula to make sure the batter is even on top. Bake for 45 minutes. The edges of the cake should be golden brown in color and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool in the pans for about 30 minutes. Carefully remove the cakes from the pans and allow to cool completely on cooling racks.

Vegan Coconut Buttercream Frosting

5 tablespoons vegetable spread
5 tablespoons unsalted vegetable margerine
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese
3 cups of powdered sugar--or more if needed
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract (*this is a key flavor enhancer!)
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut (for sprinkling over the cake after it's frosted)

Cream together the first three ingredients then begin adding the powdered sugar one half cup at a time. Continue adding the sugar until the desired consistency of your frosting is reached. Add the extracts and lemon and zest. Mix well. If you see that you need more powdered sugar, add only about a quarter cup at a time.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vegan Chocolate Biscotti And Vegan Donuts (The Breakfast Weekend!)

I've been on a bit of a breakfast crusade lately. With the onset of shorter days and darker mornings, my craving for the morning sweet-but-satisfying has intensified. These chocolate biscotti were a must. My first ever "try" at making homemade biscotti. So easy. Just use a light hand when mixing the dough. Shape into a log or two logs, bake for the first round about twenty minutes. Remove and allow the log(s) to cool. Then slice, and bake for the second round. It's the second baking shot that really gives this Italian cookie its "crunch" and earns it top honors in our house for dunking-ness durability. We proclaimed it a winner during our Breakfast-Palooza!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vegan Mushroom Lasagna in Velvety Bechamel Sauce (Learning to Knit Lace Again: A Black Shawl State of Mind)

Vegan Thyme: Vegan Mushroom Lasagna in Velvety Bechamel Sauce (...

Vegan Thyme: Vegan Mushroom Lasagna in Velvety Bechamel Sauce (Learning to Knit Lace Again: A Black Shawl State of Mind)
This is one of the many nights I hadn't a clue as to what we'd be having for dinner--with about an hour to spare before Dr. Thyme came home, I was sort of in a pinch. I was in no mood to run to the store either. To be honest I was having one of my "shut-in" periods: times when being amongst the masses of other three o'clock grocery store scavangers sounded about as appealing as having my eyelashes removed one at a time by a trained monkey. No thanks. I had a limited amount of energy in my reserves and figured, whatever it was I made for dinner would most certainly have to last at least two nights. I was in a non-cooking frame of mind. It happens. I'm Almost Fifty. Hormonal. What can I say.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Precious Sister Time (This Is Us Making Up for Lost Time And Visiting Our Mother's Ghost)

I could have titled this post, "What I did on my summer vacation". Because really, the best moments of the summer were squeezed together in the shrinking daylight hours of this past week with my sister. That old adage time flies when you're having fun--it certainly does. Trust me. Before we knew it, I was taking her to the airport for her flight home. We have so much lost time to make up--every moment we have together is truly precious. We call it: Making new memories. We have years lost. Dr. Thyme is patient and kind while she is here. Giving us the "girl space" we need. Also, jumping in to be Photo Studio Man (because he really does take some of the best pictures we have in our collection--especially now that his eyes are fixed).

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