Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Catch-up on testing and cookbook challenging

I'm so far behind blogging about tester recipes.  It's pretty bad.

A couple of weeks ago (seriously), I had 2/3 of the Ethnocrew to dinner for for Nigel Tufnel Day and, incongruously, Eastern European food.  Well, it wasn't all Eastern European - dessert was well American.  But here's how we got on.
We started with the Roasted Beet Salad with Apples and Dill Vinaigrette.  This was a project, and salad shouldn't be a project.  It took over an hour to make, mostly because I had to first peel and then roast the beets.  I wasn't terribly keen on it, but the girls liked it.  I think it might have been better if the beets had been a little saltier (and roastier) and if we'd left out the lettuce.  At least it was pretty.
Our main was Shchi (Sauerkraut and Mushroom Soup) with Sour Dilly Cream.  This was really nice, and the cream really brought the flavours together.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much the cream tasted like sour cream without actually containing vegan sour cream (i.e., Tofutti).  The soup was lovely as well.  It was just the right amount of healthy, salty, and comforting.
Dessert that night was two cookbook challenge recipes - Chocolate Chip Skillet Cake and Very Vanilla Ice Cream from Vegan Diner.  Let's not pretend that this is anything other than a giant chocolate chip cookie.  It was really good, though I would've liked it to be a bit moister.  The ice cream did what it says on the tin - it was very vanilla.  It worked really well with the cookie cake.  I quite liked both, but I think, if I made the ice cream again, I'd use a bit more soy cream so it was a little fattier/creamier.

I also made a couple of tester recipes this week:
Sunday night, I made Pumpkin Black Bean Posole (but with butternut squash instead of pumpkin).  I love posole.  This was lovely, light and comforting.  It was also easy and quick to throw together.  The only thing I'd change about it is that it needs more cumin.  I'd definitely make this again (but with more cumin).  I might like it with cornbread instead of corn chips, though the corn chips make a lovely presentation.  (NB - I didn't use most of the suggested toppings because I'm either allergic, don't like them, or couldn't be bothered.  It didn't detract from the deliciousness.)
This was tonight's dinner - Gnocchi with Roasted Tomato Caper Sauce and Braised Greens with Lemon and Olive Oil.  The gnocchi was good but salty:  olives + capers + added salt in the sauce and pasta = way too much salt.  I like the concept, so I'd probably do this again with tinned tomatoes (for the laziness/sauciness factor) and no added salt.  The greens (spinach, to be precise) were delicious, quick, and easy.  Seriously, about 15 minutes from washing to eating (or possibly less if I had been focused on one recipe at a time).  I'd definitely make this again.  It's kinda like a Mediterranean version of the chard recipe from Viva Vegan!, which is one of my favourite ways to eat chard.  Also, that doesn't look like much, but we ate an entire bag of spinach between the two of us.  I think Mike got more than I did though.  I was too generous.

Hopefully I'll keep up better with testing (and posting about testing) over the next couple of months, though we'll see what happens when we start moving flats and everything.  All being well, we get the keys next Friday (OMG!!!)!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Thanksgiving in Scotland

I think everyone is aware that yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US.  Thanksgiving is one of those sketchy holidays that you almost think you should stop celebrating because of all the dodgy history behind it.  I wish I could find that awesome video of the children's Thanksgiving play where they talk about giving the natives smallpox blankets to illustrate my point.  That said, a lot of people, myself included, have decided that Thanksgiving is really about the food.  And when you boil it down to its essence, that's really what it is - we survived a year in a hostile land and we now have a crap ton of food, so let's gorge ourselves on it.  Basically, Thanksgiving is a holiday all about gluttony, and I'm totally down with that.

This year was pretty good.  Unfortunately, my bff couldn't make it like she did last year (oh man, I wish I had some tamales), so I only took Thanksgiving day off.  I decided on the spur of the moment last Friday night to invite people over, so 2/3 of my Ethnology Crew came round, and then I invited a couple of Mike's gaming friends (who've been to dinner here before).  I was a genius and didn't decide on a menu until Wednesday night, but you know what?  It's the UK, and no one gives a crap, so I didn't have to worry about the shops all being sold out of everything I'd need.

And it turned out to be a good thing anyway, because Isa posted her new Seitan Roast Stuffed with Shiitakes and Leeks on Tuesday.  The laziness took over and urged me to buy Smash and stuffing from a box and then cover both with Sage Gravy from Quick and Easy Vegan Celebrations.  I also made roasted broccoli to balance out the white and brown.  (I had intended on making Q&EVC green bean casserole, but to my dismay, the only shop I ever saw fried onions in no longer sells them.  *sadface*)
Sorry about the darkness - the living room has even less light than the kitchen.
I know the roast is what everyone is here for.  First of all, it was actually pretty easy to make, and it was absolutely delicious.  It also reheated well in a microwave.  My problem with it was that I used UK vital wheat gluten and followed the recipe, so it was a bit moist.  I think it took nearly twice as long to cook as it was supposed to (I stopped keeping track after about an hour and 10 because I was trying to cook everything else).  But I'd definitely make this again - it looks good, it tastes amazing, and I went from decision to dinner (including shopping) in a few hours.  Oh, and it fed 6 people plus leftovers!  Next time, I'll use more vwg.

Rather than head right into dessert, we discussed our options and decided on nog.  No one but Mike had ever tried nog (even the non-vegan stuff), so everyone was intrigued.  I made my stand-by, absolute favourite vegan nog, Bryanna Clark Grogan's Pumpkin Nog.  Everyone thought it was good, and there was even discussion about making it into a custard (someone had mentioned having warm nog, and I said it would probably turn into custard if heated).

After sitting and chatting for a while to make a bit of space for more food, we moved on to dessert.  Naturally, I made pumpkin pie.  My go-to pie is usually the one I made last year, the Impossible Pumpkin Pie from the Fat Free Vegan blog.  But there was a pumpkin pie thread on the PPK, and Phoenix posted her Jack (the Pumpkin King) Pie.  A pie referencing The Nightmare Before Christmas and made with Speculoos cookie crust?  Hell yeah I'm making that pie.
It wasn't as burnt as it looks.

I served it with some Soyatoo Soy Whip (in a can - in my defense, the non-canned stuff is no longer being sold, and my only other option was Rice Whip).
Immediately after I took this picture, I covered the rest of the top with whipped cream.
I really liked this pie, but that's because I love a cookie crust.  The only thing I didn't like was that the crust didn't want to come up until day 2 (well, the last 2 slices).  But other than that, it was good.  The filling was pretty standard pumpkin pie filling.  But it was really easy to make and came out great.  We were all happy with it.

Along with the food, we also managed to polish off 2 1/2 bottles of wine between the 6 of us.  I usually don't drink much, but the Beaujolais Nouveau was released this week (I think), so I bought a bottle of that and had an astounding 2 glasses.  But with all the food, it barely made me sleepy.

And that was our Thanksgiving.  We're hoping to get to the US for T'giving next year, but we'll see how things go.  We'll be sinking a lot of money into the new flat, so we might not have it for traveling.

How was your Thanksgiving?  Did you celebrate even though you aren't American?

I completely forgot to post some tester stuff (I got lazy), so I'll try to write that up soon!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Irn Bru cookies!

Remember this post about Irn Bru cupcakes?  They were good, but not quite right, and I thought further experimentation was warranted.

Well, some time last week, an ex-pat friend of ours (Brit in Canada) posted on Facebook that he missed Irn Bru.  What better excuse could I have come up with?  I know from homesickness (even if one wouldn't refer to that particular instance as homesickness), and he seemed to be having a crap week on top of that, so I offered to make him some Irn Bru cookies.  He seemed pleased by the idea, so I was like, YEAH LET'S DO THIS!

I did some research into using soda as a flavouring for baked goods and came across this post on grape soda cupcakes from Kelly of The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur.  I also looked for the right cookie recipe.  I finally settled on Kelly's recipe for Amazingly Soft Sugar Cookies.  I basically made an Irn Bru reduction and replaced most of the liquid with the reduction.  Kelly very kindly agreed to let me post her recipe with my minor changes, so here it is.
sorry about the crap pic - I was running late for work

Irn Bru Cookies
(recipe adapted from Amazingly Soft Sugar Cookies in The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur by Kelly Peloza)

  • 4 c Irn Bru
Pour the soda into a pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until it reduces to about 3/4 of a cup.  Set aside to cool.
  • 3/4 c margarine
  • 1 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 c soy yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c Irn Bru reduction (plus more if needed)
  • 4 c flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
In a large bowl, cream the margarine and sugar.  Add the yogurt and vanilla and mix to combine, then add 1/4 c Irn Bru reduction and mix until well combined.  Sift in the dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing as you go.  Add more reduction if the dough is dry.  Refrigerate for an hour or more (or freeze for 15 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.  Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls in your hand and then smoosh them down (alternatively, you can roll and cut them).  Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes or until slightly golden at the edges.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely before icing.

For the icing:  Dump a good amount of icing sugar into a bowl and add about 3 tbsp Irn Bru reduction.  Beat with a fork until smooth.  It should be pretty thick - if it isn't, add more icing sugar.  Dip the tops of the cooled cookies into the icing and place on cookie sheets to firm up.  If you're awesome like me, make another batch of glaze and double dip those bad boys once the first round of icing is set.

The whole process takes a few hours, but it'll probably be easier and faster the second time around since I know what I'm doing (and hopefully won't be having an allergy attack like I did this time).

After all that, I never got my friend's address!  But his loss was everyone else's gain - I gave the cookies I took in for shipping to my co-workers, and Mike ate the rest (about a dozen in one night - he really liked them).

I imagine this would work for other types of soda-based cookies, so I might give it a try with something else.  And I might also try to reduce the Irn Bru even further for a stronger flavour - even with the reduction instead of the straight soda, the flavour was still pretty mild.  Any ideas what I should try next?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Cookbook Challenge - Cheating with testers

Thinking about testing always makes me think of one of Tom Hanks's many SNL appearances, the one in which he played Wayne's cousin Barry, who was a roadie for Aerosmith, and gave a demonstration of his job by doing a mic check ("check, check, sibilance, sibilance").  I digress.

This week's cookbook challenge is another Isa and Terry week.  I spent all of my new-recipe-making energy on Terry testing, so I'm cheating and saying I did them for the challenge.  Let's be honest, the only Isa/Terry book I haven't already made loads from is the cookie book (well, and the pie book, but that just came out), and I really don't need to make a bunch of different cookies (especially after my week-long cookie-fest in which I made 3 types of chocolate chip cookies).

I ended up making five testers this week:
The first was Toasted Lentils, Onions, and Rice.  Yeah, it's not all that pretty, but it's tasty.  It's loaded with caramelized onions, which are one of my cooking nemeses.  It took me about an hour (probably longer) to caramelize those bloody onions.  Next time, they're going in the slow cooker.  This would actually be a pretty quick-ish recipe if one were to use frozen caramelized onions.  It's got a bit of a sausage-y flavour with the addition of whole fennel seeds.  I tasted this shortly after it finished cooking and didn't really care for it, but the flavour improves immensely after sitting or a few days, so I'm glad I reserved judgment.  The recipe also makes a ton, so I had lunches all week and a few dinners.
After a most of a week of frozen food and leftovers, I knocked out three more testers on Thursday (well, four, but I made another tester with tester seitan).  Pictured are Gyro Roasted Seitan (made with Lemon & Olive Seitan), Lemon Garlic Roasted Potatoes, and Roasted Broccoli with Lemon and Sage.  The reviews were mixed on this meal.  We both loved the broccoli - roasted broccoli is really a thing of beauty.  I really liked the potatoes, but Mike thought they were just OK.  I only kinda liked the seitan (the flavours were good but the texture was off due to my seitan being underdone, as you can probably see from the pic), but Mike didn't like it because he thought it was too "different".  Honestly, I'd make it again because I knew it was just a user error, but Mike probably wouldn't eat it (or would eat it but complain about it, more accurately).  Together, it was actually an excellent meal.
We went to Glasgow today to get Mike's passport sorted and had lunch at Heavenly.  Be warned - you don't wanna rock up at 1 on the Saturday they do the craft fair, because you might not get seated.  We actually had to get a snack at Holland & Barrett and do some shopping, then go back after we'd picked up his passport.  Anyway, I finally got the breakfast, and I was not disappointed.  On the plate are tofu scramble (made with smoked tofu), mushrooms, tempeh rashers, toast, beans, tomatoes, sausage, and a potato scone.  This was the best vegan breakfast I've ever had at a restaurant, and the two things that made it were the scramble and the scone (which was actually more like a mushy hashbrown or giant latke).  It was so, so good.
Bonus picture of Mike eating his brunch.

For dessert, we both got caramel hot chocolate, which was delicious, and I got the gingerbread.  I was really excited to eat it based on my previous experience, but they've already changed it.  This one came out floating in a puddle of really thin custard with no chocolate sauce.  It was still good, but not mouthgasmic like the last time (and the presentation, which I usually don't care about, was sub-par).  The custard wasn't as flavourful, the cake was flatter and seemed less fresh (which isn't surprising since the last time I know they'd just baked it), and it didn't come together as well without the chocolate.  I'll maybe skip this if we're not having it as a post-dinner dessert - I'm hoping that they just didn't try as hard because it was a lunchtime thing.

I'll be doing more testing next week, and I'll also be attempting Irn Bru cookies.  Let's hope they work better than the cupcakes.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Perfect chocolate chip cookies

I thought I would take a break from blogging for one day, but then I decided not to.  It's World Vegan Day!  And because of that, I had to make something.  I decided to dig out my old favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe and see how it compared to the ones I'd made the past few days.
Many years ago, I was not really a cookie fan.  I don't know why - maybe because people thought putting things like oats and raisins and nuts in cookies was acceptable practice.  I pretty much only ever ate chocolate chip cookies, and my favourites were Keebler Soft Batch cookies.

Then this dude started coming out with books for making home versions - nearly exact replicas - of packaged and restaurant foods.  One of them had Keebler Soft Batch cookies in it.  Score!  I bought the book and made the cookies, and they ended up being my sister's favourite as well as mine.  I think about her every time I make these, if only because of the time she insisted I make them at her tiny little apartment when, not being a cook/baker herself (she preferred things from cans and boxes in those days) and not having much equipment, we had to try to cream the first ingredients by hand with a spoon (or maybe it was one of those hand-cranked egg beaters).  I think we gave up after about 15 minutes (but we still made the cookies).

One of the first recipes I veganized was that cookie recipe.  Instead of posting the recipe here and running afoul of copyright law or something, I'll just direct you to the link above and make the following suggestions:
  • Only make half a batch unless you're taking them to a potluck or something (otherwise you'll be in the kitchen for hours)
  • Replace the butter with vegan margarine
  • Replace the egg with either a flax egg or commercial egg replacer
  • If you live near sea level/in a moist climate, increase the flour a bit (you should be able to shape them by hand)
I love how these cookies are still soft a day or two later (if they last more than 2 days).  I don't know if it's the molasses or the method, but whatever it is, they're amazing both right out of the oven and the next day.  They're the only chocolate chip cookie I've ever had that stayed soft, which is how I like them.  Oh, and if you mess up and take them out too early (like I did tonight), you can still eat them and they'll still be delicious!  I actually kinda love gooey, undercooked cookies.  I think I ate about 5 tonight, and now I feel a bit sick.

I tested a recipe for Terry last night, but since this post is already kinda lengthy, I'll post that tomorrow.