No Murders In The Rue Morgue


Plum overload!

My good friend Erika has a plum tree in her back yard that has been off the hook lately, so I found myself with a windfall of fresh, delicious plums. I normally buy the larger black plums when they’re in season, but Erika’s tree bears Santa Rosa plums, common in California, so I branched out to a new variety this time around.

Back in Canada, I have a box containing all my cookbooks, including one that I looked at and drooled over all the time but never used much: The Moosewood Dessert Book. I have a love/hate relationship with all the Moosewood cookbooks. I love many of their old standby recipes (the Six-Minute chocolate cake helped many people bake vegan before baking vegan was cool, and the menestra, while the name sounds like some kind of menopause drug, is delicious and one of the first things I ever cooked for people), I don’t like the reliance on eggs and dairy and much of the language the recipes are written in. Regardless, I love the style of the dessert book – delicious cakes and confections without all kinds of cutesy nonsense. One of the recipes I’d been meaning to try for ages was the Plum Upside Down Cake. I never got around to it, partly because plums were often so expensive back in Canada, but when Erika handed me the 9-pound bag of beautiful Santa Rosas, I knew I had to finally make it. Unfortunately, my book was still in the box in Canada, so I had to find another recipe.

Inspiration came, as it so often does, in the form of Alton Brown. I’ve got a bit of a crush on Mr. Brown, and I’ve been very into his book, I’m Just Here For More Food lately. That book contains a recipe for pineapple upside down cake, so I figured with a few tweaks, I could veganize it, substitute plums for pineapple, and be off to the races! While I’m not 100% satisfied with the result, it is a gooey, tasty, plum-y treat that, with a little more work, will be a real winner!

Plum Upside Down Cake

Gooey Plum Topping
8 tbsp Earth Balance
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup plum cheeks (the sides of the plum, sliced parallel to the pit from either side of the plum)
2 – 3 tbsp pomegranate juice

Cake
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Egg replacer for 3 large eggs
5 tbsp water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract

Put the Earth Balance in a cast iron frying pan and melt it over low heat. Add the sugar and cook until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir to make sure it doesn’t burn. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and press the plum cheeks, cut side down, in circles into the sugar mixture in the pan. Pour the pomegranate juice over the top of the whole thing.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients and whisk together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix, and stir until combined. Don’t overmix!

Pour the cake batter over the sugar mixture and plums in the cast iron pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.



Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale – San Francisco
June 29, 2009, 10:37 am
Filed under: Activism, Baking

Just in case you didn’t know, the last week of June has been official Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale week. The idea was to host vegan bake sales all over the globe, each one raising money for a local pro-animal cause. Here in San Francisco, we did two days worth of vegan bake sale-ing, and we raised $3,000 to be split between Animal Place and the East Bay Animal Advocates. Both organizations do great work for the animals, and we were all really stoked to be able to give them some cash!

While the activism and the camaraderie and the getting to meet new vegans you hadn’t met before was awesome and all, the real high point of the event was the baked goods themselves (well, okay, the activism was just as good, but it’s harder to photograph). Both days featured masses and masses of cupcakes, cookies, scones, exotic Swedish pastries, pies, loaves, donuts, and all manner of other amazingness, and both days sold out!

Not only was the sale a very successful fundraiser, but we also were able to really get the point across the vegan food does not equal healthy, boring rabbit food. It’s amazing how far a good chocolate chip cookie can go in helping people to see veganism in a different light. With one bite, a person who had never seriously considered veganism can have their heart and mind opened, and that tiny seed of “maybe this isn’t such a hard thing to do after all” can be planted. Not to get all sentimental, but it’s pretty amazing what the simple act of baking something with pride and with care can do. I guess that’s what got me thinking about what I was going to make for the sale myself: Donuts! Perfect – I was even able to decorate them to match up with the Pride theme (June 28, the second day of the bake sale was Gay Pride Day).

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty broke, and that means that I don’thave much money to spend on ingredients for baked goods that I’m not going to eat. I wanted to make something impressive that would draw people in and that people might not associate with vegan baking, but buying 3 tubs of Earth Balance was out of the question. I racked my brain and eventually settled on yeasted donuts. I’ve made them a couple of times before and have been working on perfecting my recipe, and I’m happy to say that on Day 2 of the bake sale (sorry Day 1), I think I finally got it! The donuts were cheap to make, totally bad for you (no vegan rabbit food here), and pretty tasty if I do say so myself. I made a couple dozen basic glazed, and then painted the tops using Wilton food colouring paste. The result was visually appealing and pleasing to the stomach. These bad boys required a couple hours’ worth of work, but I like to think that they’re a pretty good example of what you can do with good intentions, a bit of work, and not a lot of money.

Thanks to all who volunteered, baked, or bought at the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sales all over the globe, and hopefully we’ll see you again next year!



Last Minute Birthday
May 27, 2009, 12:55 pm
Filed under: barbecue, Cakes

My husband turned another year older yesterday. I’d arranged to borrow a charcoal grill from my neighbor to grill up some veggie burgers and kebabs for the occassion, since the birthday boy said he didn’t want to do anything. When I told him what I’d arranged, he was disgusted and told me that in America, y’all don’t barbecue without inviting people over (forgive me, I’m half-watching Cold Mountain while I write this), so we hastily invited over some friends, and I started throwing together some food and a birthday cake.

The birthday boy requested homemade veggie burgers and kebabs and corn on the cob, so I made a trip to the co-op for GimmeLean ground “beef” and a trip to the big, crappy Safeway for corn and kebab veggies. I made up some veggie burgers mixing the “ground beef” with some finely diced onion, sage, and a bit of tamari. Then I marinated the veggies (cherry tomatoes, sweet onions, yellow summer squash, pineapple, and mushrooms) in a bit of olive oil, tamari, garlic, and a touch of ginger. The corn was grilled in the husk. All in all, prep took about 40 minutes and produced enough food to feed about 8 people.

Next up: birthday cake! My husband told me after eating is birthday cake that he hadn’t had a cake in over a decade, so I’m glad I made it. I didn’t have a lot of time and didn’t want to spend a tonne of dough on ingredients, so I made two 8-inch vegan “wacky” cakes (the standard vegan chocolate cake – flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar) and a batch of Isa Chandra Moskowitz‘s peanut butter caramel. I let the cakes cool and turned one of them out onto a platter. I spread it with the caramel and then turned the other cake out on top. In retrospect, I should have turned out the cakes onto a board and brushed all the crumbs off, but I didn’t, so I had to make do. Next, I whipped up a batch of peanut butter frosting. My recipe is close to all the standard versions but seems to be just distinct enough to warrant posting:

Jordan’s Peanut Butter Frosting (that’s not much different from anyone else’s)

2/3 cup smooth natural peanut butter (use natural PB that isn’t too grainy or separated – you want the stronger, truer peanut taste of the natural stuff, but you don’t want to grainy texture or the oiliness of the kinds that separate – check your grocery’s bulk bins)
1/2 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1/4 cup Shortening
1.5 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups icing sugar

Mix the buttery spread and shortening (both should be at room temperature) until smooth. You want to get all the lumps out (because lumps of shortening in the frosting is nasty!). Add the peanut butter and vanilla and brown rice syrup beat the shit out of it. I did this all by hand with a whisk. If you’re doing it that way, your arm should be good and tired before you move to the next step.

Add the first cup of icing sugar and beat until very smooth. Then add the remaining cup and beat again until smooth. The frosting should be smooth but fairly firm. The longer you beat it, the fluffier it will get. Electric mixers or beaters are great for this, but it can be done by hand.

I frosted the cake with the peanut butter frosting and threw it in the fridge for about half an hour. Next, I mixed up some quick and dirty ganache (about 1/3 cup of vegan chocolate chips melted in a double boiler with about 3 tablespoons of soy creamer). I had meant to borrow a pastry bag and tips from a friend (I know – it is lame that I don’t own my own yet), but I forgot, so my sole decorating tool was a spoon and a butter knife. In the end, I decided just to pour the ganache over top of the cake and go for the classic chocolate-dripping-down-the-sides-of-the-cake look.

Not my favorite decorating job ever, but it turned out okay and was devoured in about 30 seconds.

All in all, about $50 was spent on food and supplies, maybe 2.5 hours spent in the kitchen doing baking and prep work, and about 4 hours spent having fun! Not a bad investment at all if I do say so myself, and the birthday boy enjoyed his day immensely.



Tea Cookies, Literally
May 21, 2009, 11:55 am
Filed under: Baking, Cheapo, Cookies
Cookies and Easter Island Tiki Thing: A Still Life

Cookies and Easter Island Tiki Thing: A Still Life

I started this blog with the intention of posting financial-crisis-compatible recipes, so I thought I’d start off making something using only the stuff I had in my kitchen. I’m a grocery store junkie, so it was hard, but I was pretty pleased with what I came up with. All of the ingredients I’ve used are cheap and readily available (with the possible exception of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is a bit hard to find in the US – I imagine you can substitute brown rice syrup, agave, or even 1/4 cup brown or regular sugar with an extra 2 tablespoons of liquid added), so you should be able to make this recipe with very little investment.

Back to the creative process, I’ve found that the best way to come up with ideas to use up stuff you’ve already got is to lay it all out on the counter and look at it. Maybe it’s just me, but my brain comes up with way better ideas when I actually look at my ingredients than if I just think about what I’ve got. So, I laid all my stuff out on my counter and saw this:

Counter

The lemon/ginger/golden syrup combo screamed “Tea!” at me, so after a bit of mental gymnastics, I came up with the idea of a lemon ginger cookie with black tea ground into the flour. While next time I make these I’m going to experiment with giving them a stronger black tea flavour (I think I’ll substitute strong brewed black tea for the soy milk and perhaps add a bit more ground tea leaves to my dry mix), they came out pretty, pretty, pretty good for a prototype. I imagine these are the kinds of cookies Bruce Dickinson would serve me in bed every morning if we were married…

Lemon Ginger Tea Cookies

Cookies II

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black tea, finely ground (I used a mortar and pestle, and it worked perfectly)
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup golden syrup (you could probably sub 5 tablespoons agave for this if you don’t keep any Lyle’s on hand)
2 tablespoons soy or rice milk
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon grated ginger
juice of one lemon

Actions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet or two.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground tea in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

In a seperate bowl, whisk together the oil, syrup, soy milk, lemon juice and zest, vanilla, and grated ginger. Make sure to mix well; golden syrup is thick and will tend to clump up in the bottom of the bowl.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Don’t overmix or you’ll get tough little rocks, but make sure everything is combined.

Portion the cookies by the tablespoon onto the greased cookie sheet. These cookies don’t spread much, so flatten them a bit and form them into nice little circles. Bake for 8 – 12 minutes (I like my cookies softer, so I leave them in around 9 minutes). They’ll be a little soft in the middle still when you take them out, and that’s okay.

These are good on their own, but I was feeling fancy and added a bit of a frosting made just of icing sugar and lemon juice. They would also be great as sandwich cookies. I imagine a cooked lemony frosting would be pretty awesome… Best enjoyed listening to Iron Maiden’s “Killers” album and dreaming about flying your band around the world on your own private plane making metal history.

Cookies III