24 February 2009

Off-topic -- A Wonderful Diversion

A book review of something other than a recipe book (without an Altered recipe from me) is pretty far afield for this blog, but I had to share this book with you. It is truly one of the best books I've ever read. Of course it helps that the novel is primarily focused on food and the relationships the students of a very interesting cooking class have with food.

It's honest without being overly sentimental, especially when tackling some pretty tough topics like marital infidelity and fatal disease. And, it's hopeful in a realistic way. The author, Erica Bauermeister, writes about food very lovingly -- she makes me want to set up shop in my kitchen and bake for days. She also makes me wish that I could take the cooking class with that wonderful chef.

More than anything else, reading well-crafted novels, like Ms. Bauermeister's makes me think much more about improving my writing -- really thinking about how I turn a phrase. She handles imagery in ways that remind me of how painters hold things and look at them from every angle, seeing the way the light moves around and on them. I felt like reading this book was a luxury -- especially now that I'm back in school and time is truly at a premium. But it wasn't just the time factor.

The word luscious has many different meanings, but one in particular deals with the "richly luxurious" elements of life. All that to say, reading The School of Essential Ingredients was a luscious experience for me.

Next week, it's back to altering recipes for agave nectar, per usual. Hope you're having an exceptional February.

15 February 2009

A Plate Full of Happiness

From Feb 2009 Recipes and Product Reviews

One of my favorite blogs (food or otherwise) is Culinary in the Desert, by Joe. He and his partner, Jeff (and their GORGEOUS dogs) bake and cook the most amazing things. Recently, he made some homemade graham crackers adapted from an Alton Brown recipe. Because John only eats two of the cookies I make -- peanut butter cookies and graham crackers, I decided to give Joe's recipe a try. After all, every recipe I've tried from his site has turned out to be terrific.

Because you should really go visit Joe's site, I'll just tell you about the alterations I made to the recipe and about the cookies themselves. First, the alterations:

1. Substituted 3 oz of agave nectar for the dark brown sugar, golden syrup, and molasses.
2. I used 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon instead of 1/8 teaspoon because I like my graham crackers cinnamony.
3. I didn't actually use graham flour, but genuine whole wheat flour. Someday I will try it, but times being tight, I'm just going to use up what I have first.

From John's reaction, I probably could have used more agave. In my humble opinion, they were plenty buttery and sweet enough. He said the consistency of these was much closer to the store-bought kind than in the past. I explained that they're never going to be the same because 1. I don't use funny ingredients or shortening and 2. I don't use cane sugar.

From Feb 2009 Recipes and Product Reviews

Agave nectar just doesn't behave the same way that sugar does. It doesn't crystallize, and it doesn't give cookies the same kind of crunch that sugar does. There's no getting around it. However, it will do marvelous things for the flavor and moistness of baked goods. I'll just keep hacking away at it. At least he tried them.

In my estimation, they're very nice buttery, crisp cookies. I'd be happy, in fact, I'd be smiling as I served them. And now, the house smells delicious. Thanks, Joe!

10 February 2009

Vegan Pumpkin Cranberry Scones Remix

From Feb 2009 Recipes and Product Reviews

Always my go-to book (or second after Vegan with a Vengeance) for ingredients I'm not sure what to do with, Veganomicon provided the majority of this recipe (90% of the ingredients, most of the directions, although I had to change things around a bit to deal with the agave nectar challenge).

Before I launch into the recipe as I made it, I have to tell you a bit about the scones themselves. These are best right after they've cooled just enough to handle. Also, if you freeze them the day you bake them, you'll be in good shape to warm them each time you want one or share them with others. The tartness of the cranberries is an excellent foil for the lushness of the pumpkin. They're not your typical scones. In fact, they're more muffin-y than scone-y. You know how scones are usually dry affairs that remind you of biscuits? Well, these are not like those. In fact, you could easily scoop this batter into muffin wrappers and pass them off as muffins. I might just do that myself next time I bake them -- and believe me, there WILL be a next time.

From Feb 2009 Recipes and Product Reviews

Here's the recipe as I made it.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Scones (as inspired by the recipe of the same name in the Veganomicon)

Yields 12 scones or muffins


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
4 teaspoons baking powder (yes, you read that correctly)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup Earth Balance buttery sticks (1 individually wrapped short stick) VERY COLD
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)
4 teaspoons flax meal
1 cup agave nectar
Zest of one lemon (alternately, you could use a lime, it would look great!)
1 cup frozen cranberries (or wait until you can get fresh ones), chopped
3 tablespoons shelled pepitas or pumpkin seeds


1. Sift together the dry ingredients (everything up until the agave nectar in the ingredients list) in a large bowl.
2. Cut the Earth Balance up into small pieces and using a whisk as a pastry cutter, cut the margarine into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. This is done by using the whisk like a potato masher and shaking out the clumps until you have a uniform mix. It takes less time than a pastry cutter or a fork. Try it!
3. In another bowl, mix together the non-dairy milk and the flax meal until completely incorporated. Mix in the agave nectar and the lemon zest until well combined.
4. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, making sure that it's not too lumpy.
5. Fold in the cranberries.
6. Heat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper or line your muffin pan with papers.
7. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the batter into the muffin liners or onto the parchment paper. You'll need to leave 3 inches between each scone scoop.
8. Sprinkle the pepitas on top of the muffins or scones.
9. Bake for 15 minutes, then switch the positions of the pans (if using multiple pans) in the oven. Then, bake for another 15 minutes before checking with a bamboo skewer for no crumbs.
10. Cool completely on a wire rack and enjoy or freeze immediately (double-bag these).

From Feb 2009 Recipes and Product Reviews

03 February 2009

More Like a Quick Bread Than a Cake

From Jan. 2009 Product Reviews and Recipes

When I brought this dense, moist carrot cake to my friends last week, I told them that it was a bread, not a cake. I'm glad I did because it wasn't frosted and tasted much more like a quick bread than any carrot cake I've had. The recipe is one I've altered from Baking with Agave Nectar. Since my version isn't much different than the original, I'll list my alterations here:

1. Added a small, very ripe banana to the grated carrots. It needed to be used, and John actually suggested it. I'm glad he did. I don't think it would have been as moist without it.

2. Increased the amount of agave from 3/4 cup to 1 cup (it still wasn't that sweet, but next time, I'll use more dried fruit soaked in hot water first).

3. Used whole wheat pastry flour for the oat flour. I should have made oat flour first, but by the time I read it in the recipe, I'd already run the carrots through the food processor and who wants to clean the food processor twice.

4. Baked it in a single Bundt pan instead of two round cake layer pans.

5. Baked it for 45 minutes (had to lower the heat to 325 degrees F) after 30 mins.

6. Used flavored yogurt. You can't tell the difference.

7. Used dried bing cherries for raisins. Yum!

From Jan. 2009 Product Reviews and Recipes

Overall, I'd give it a B-, but everyone else really liked it. It's probably because they didn't know it was supposed to be a cake. Frosting would definitely have improved it, but I'm still not giving up on this cookbook. Many more recipes to try.