Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Banana Cream Pie

I think this recipe could use a little tweaking in the future but is still good enough to post. The real winner here is the pastry cream--I am very happy with it and will use it again when needed. The problem stems from the topping. I was going for a whipped cream-esque topping like you see in this post (i.e. whipped coconut cream), but it never set in the fridge. Maybe my fridge is not cold enough. So, I added about 1/4 cup of sugar to the coconut cream, some vanilla extract, and whipped it like crazy until I got soft peaks. That was good enough, but not really the look I was going for. I also thought that it was far too heavy--maybe a small dollop on each slice next time, or some other kind of topping (but I am not sure what). As for the pastry cream, I went with agar flakes to help it to set. While I usually try to avoid hard to get ingredients, I really think this was the right call here. If you don't have agar, just Google "vegan pastry cream" and check out some of the other recipes out there. I also really have to advocate the vanilla bean here for superior flavour. Expensive but totally worth it.

- 1 pre-baked 9" pie shell
- whipped coconut cream (i.e. the fat from a can of coconut milk left in the fridge for a day, whipped with sugar and vanilla extract)
- 4 bananas, sliced
- 2 tsp orange juice
- 1 tsp Grand Marnier (or just another tsp of orange juice)

Pastry Cream

- 2 cups plain soy milk, divided
- 1 tsp agar flakes
- 1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- pinch of tumeric (optional)
- 1 tbsp margarine

1. Bring 1/2 cup of the soy milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, sprinkle agar over top, and set aside.
2. Bring 1 cup of the soy milk (not the stuff from step 1) and the vanilla bean/scrapings to bubbling over medium heat in a saucepan. While it is heating, whisk the sugar and cornstarch (and tumeric, if using) together in a medium bowl, then whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of soy milk. When the soy milk on the stove is bubbling around the edges, remove the vanilla bean and slowly whisk it into the sugar/cornstarch/soy milk mixture.
3. Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium heat, add the soy milk/agar mixture, and bring to bubbling, whisking constantly. Cook for 2-3 mins, or until the agar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in margarine. When thickened, pour into a clean bowl (pour through a sieve if the vanilla bean left any chunks behind) and cover with plastic wrap to prevent that scummy layer from forming. Poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to let the steam escape. Let sit to cool to room temperature.

To make the pie:
1. Toss the banana slices in the juice and Grand Marnier. Pour half of the pastry cream into the pie shell, then layer all the banana slices on top. Top that with the remaining pastry cream and smooth out the top. Top with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to fully set (this will take a few hours).
2. When ready to serve, remove from fridge and top with coconut cream.

This is a pie you can make the day before and let sit in the fridge. It really does taste fabulous the next day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Anniversary Feast from The Conscious Cook

Last week Vegan Mom and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary with a 4 course meal courtesy of The Conscious Cook. I'm not used to making food with so many components so I really felt like I was on some cooking show. I tried to pick recipes that could use the bounty of garden-fresh produce that is bursting from the fridge and came up with this:
The appetizer was Twice-Baked Potatoes. This was supposed to be Twice-Baked Fingerling Potatoes with Crisped Dulse but I could not find fingerling potatoes at the store and I did not realize I was out of dulse. Still, these were very tasty and I loved the kick from the horseradish.
Next course Very Green Salad with Cucumber, Kohlrabi, Sweet Onions and Herb Vinaigrette. Well, the title pretty much says it all. Simple and tasty.
Entree: Old Bay Tofu Cakes with Pan-Roasted Summer Vegetables, Horseradish Cream, Apples, and Beets. This was time consuming but awesome. The tofu cake recipe makes waaaaay too much (12 small cakes, my eye!), so I served it to the kids the next day and they loved them. I also had to add 2 tbsp of wheat gluten to get the cakes to hold together.

Dessert was Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Orange Sauce. This tasted great but did not set (hence no picture). I would love to try it again with more agar agar.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chokecherry Jelly

At the beginning of August a neighbour tipped me off that there were about a bazillion chokecherries growing along the old train tracks. So, I trekked off and picked hug bowl. I have never used chokecherries before so I went to the interwebs for a recipe. I went with this one and followed it more or less. First, it's pretty much impossible to crush a chokecherry. They are rather pulpy and have very little juice. I also ended up adding about 3 cups of water and crushed them as they cooked, then let it drip over night. The resulting juice was milky pink, but the final jelly a lovely purple-red. The jelly is mellower than currant jelly, and is lovely on toast in the morning.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy 8th Birthday, Son #2!

Today is Son #2's birthday and that meant cake! He, of course, wanted a Harry Potter cake. The library does not have the Harry Potter cake pan (which is OK, because it's kind of lame) so he chose the open book pan. Over the week we brainstormed ideas about what kind of book it could be: a spell book, the Half-Blood Prince's potions textbook, etc. We finally decided that it would be fun to do the story within the story: Beedle the Bard's Tale of the Three Brothers from The Deathly Hallows. I was thinking I could make the book like an old illuminated manuscript--the question became how to do it in buttercream. I knew planning was involved so I made a life-size sketch to work out the word spacing and picture placement. Even so, you'll notice I had to leave off the title because I ended up enlarging the picture on the first page, and some words ended up taking up more space in frosting.
The cake itself is a quadruple vanilla cupcake recipe with the oil reduced by 1/4. This made for a fluffier cake that baked up nicely in 45 mins at 350. The icing is a single recipe of buttercream. But, at first I did not add any soy milk--this became the foundation icing for the pages. I wanted something thick and durable. I coloured about half of it with orange, yellow, and brown to make it look like aged paper. I spread it on and let it dry for 20 mins, then flattened the icing by pressing on it with a piece of parchment paper. I added some soy milk to the remaining icing for the text and pictures.
As for the pictures, I made cutouts of the figures and pressed them into the icing by gently pushing along the edges with a toothpick. I think this was a great method because it allows for fine detail and sharp edges. Basically I filled the depressions with icing (#1 tip again) which is easier than trying to keep a steady hand all the time.
The text icing is a mix of red and black and was piped on, letter by letter, with a #1 tip. I guess all that calligraphy as a kid paid off. The shading around the figures is done by thinning the colouring gel with vodka (a tip from one of my Facebook followers) and painting it one with a brush. I love this technique. The alcohol evaporates off and you get a wonderful watercolour effect. I also used this technique to colour in the brother standing at the back. I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture, but his figure is depressed into the icing and has no buttercream. So you get a sense of depth in colour and in actual relief. I used a mix of blue, purple, and black.

The vines are moss green and piped on using a #3 tip. The page edges is the leftover moss green and blue shadow icing mixed together.
All in all, this was a very fun, but pretty hard, cake to make. I liked the artistic challenge of making something more original and it certainly got a lot of ooohs and aaahs from the neighbours we invited over to partake.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer Chowder

The weather has been a bit colder since the calendar turned to August so it did not seem weird to eat a hot soup during the summer. But, even if it was hot I think I would still make this delicious, creamy chowder made of seasonal ingredients. The corn and cauliflower came from a local farm, and the garlic, shallots, and potatoes from my garden.

- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 large sweet onion, halved and sliced
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 4 to 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 small cauliflower, chopped (about 5 cups)
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 3 cups peeled potato, diced (Yukon Gold is nice), divided
- water
- kernels from 2 ears of corn
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Saute onions and celery for 5 mins, then add shallots and garlic. Saute for another 5 mins until soft and translucent but not golden.
2. Add cashews, 1 cup of the potato, and the cauliflower. Add enough water to almost cover the veggies (i.e. a few should be poking out). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 mins, until veggies are very soft.
3. While cauliflower is cooking, boil the remaining potatoes in salted water until just tender (about 5 mins for fresh potatoes). Add corn and cook for another 2 mins, until corn is tender. Drain.
4. Blend cauliflower with an immersion blender until very smooth (a good 5 mins). Add more water if too thick. Add nutritional yeast, if using, and season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes and corn and mix well. Adjust seasonings and serve.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I am back with another video installment: a bread baking double feature! This time, ciabatta. The secret to a chewy ciabatta with those characteristic holes is a very wet dough that you handle and shape on a floured surface. As long as you keep things well-floured your bread making adventure won't devolve into a sticky mess. The video is rather long but I wanted to show the shaping in real time. It made me realize that I pat/fondle my dough a lot. You'll see what I mean. The recipes are, of course, from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Start the day before you want to make the bread with the poolish--I think it tastes better after being in the fridge overnight. I use a stand mixer to make the ciabatta dough, but Reinhart says you can do it with a spoon. I have yet to try that.

Poolish (a bread pre-ferment) from Vegan Dad on Vimeo.

- 11.25 oz (2.5 cups) bread flour
- 12 oz (1.5 cups) water, room temperature
- 1/4 tsp instant yeast

Ciabatta from Vegan Dad on Vimeo.

- poolish, from above
- 13.5 oz (3 cups) bread flour
- 1 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 6 oz (3/4 cup) lukewarm water

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cantaloupe Sorbet

I hated cantaloupe when I was a kid and can remember gagging it down a few times, repulsed by both its taste and texture. My kids (save the eldest) did not inherit my juvenile cantaloupe-hating gene and actually have to have their melon intake regulated so there are no ill effects at the other end. But even if you are not crazy about muskmelon, this is a wonderful sorbet with a mellow flavour and smooth texture. It's more or less a play on my Strawberry Daiquiri Sorbet. For those who wonder about the alcohol, it inhibits freezing and gives the sorbet a softer and smoother texture. You don't have to use it, but it is better if you do.

Makes about 4 cups, or 1 quart
- 3.5 cups diced ripe cantaloupe
- 1 cup sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp tequila

1. Place diced cantaloupe and sugar in a food processor and process until smooth. Add lemon juice and tequila and blend.
2. Place mixture in the fridge for an hour to chill, then process in an ice cream maker. Transfer to a container and freeze overnight before serving.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Tomato Pasta with Fresh Basil

I am back home after over two weeks in Philadelphia and am glad to be back in my kitchen. Too bad its so hot I don't feel like cooking and/or baking. The garden fared fairly well after being more or less neglected, but some rodents had their way with my rutabagas. Alas! The first of the tomatoes are starting to ripen, so here is a nice simple pasta that does not heat up the kitchen too much. If you aren't feeding a family of six like I am, you might want to halve the recipe since refrigerated tomatoes taste terrible.

- 1 lb pasta (something small. I used ditali.)
- 2 cups chopped tomato, plus slices for garnish
- 1/2 pkg extra firm tofu, crumbled
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta according to directions.
2. While pasta is cooking, gently mix lemon juice and nutritional yeast into the tofu. Let sit for a few minutes, then mix again and season to taste with salt.
3. When the pasta has cooked, drain and rinse with some cold water to cool down a bit. You want warm but not hot pasta. Mix in olive oil (enough to lightly coat the pasta) and basil. Gently stir in tomatoes and tofu, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature garnished with tomato slices and some basil leaves.