So, I have been baking …

Several years ago, when I returned to a dairy-free diet, I discovered how many baked goods had milk in some form lingering within them.  Even that innocuous looking French bread often had whey on the ingredient statement.  So, I took up baking.  It turned out to be an excellent cost-saving endeavor as well … shopping in bulk foods to stock up on pantry items rather than buying pre-packaged. 

Anyway, my baking prowess has turned me into a bit of a test kitchen for baked goodies as well.  Rather than writing diligently on my blog and website as I should have been, for the past couple of weeks I have been churning out …

Pomegranate Ginger Cupcakes from My Sweet Vegan (heaven!)

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Pumpkin Pie Muffins (virtuosity meets indulgence)

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Banana Crumb Coffee Cake (my husband raved that this was Starbucks worthy)

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Pizza (and lots of it!) …. this one with White Sauce

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Nut Case Cookies from My Sweet Vegan (a new personal favorite from this cookie monster)

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Maple Spice Pumpkin Cookies (can we say yum!)

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Butterscotch Blondies from My Sweet Vegan (oooh, fudgy)

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Namaste Gluten-Free Bread (from a mix and amazingly impressive)

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Of course, with all of this baking and amateur photography, I couldn’t help but start up a flickr account ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/21365075@N04/ ~ a long shot from professional, but fun nonetheless!

For the Love of Lemongrass

After finding out that my “perfect” tea (Good Earth White & Green Tea Blend) is infused with lemongrass, and discovering that the secret ingredient at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant is lemongrass, I have been eager to cook with lemongrass at home.

I finally had the opportunity to do this with the Thai Coconut Corn Stew from Eat, Drink & be Vegan.  And boy was it good!  I made it with regular coconut milk for the full richness effect, and it was one awesomely thick soup.  Rich with corn, yet fairly easy to make (once you have cut up all the veggies), I was delighted when I took my first sip/bite (it was a hearty soup) to unleash a wonderful array of flavors on my tongue. 

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Needless to say, I will be cooking with lemongrass again, and I will be trialing many more recipes from this great (and did I mention nutritious?) cookbook.

Since this recipe isn’t posted online, I don’t feel that I can divulge it.  But, next on my list is the Mellow Lentil “Sniffle” Soup, which is posted up on Dreena’s site.  I hate to post and not give you any recipes!

Polenta Casserole & Banana Cream Pancakes

I forgot to mention that I just received a copy of Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, the new cookbook by Dreena Burton.  It is the first cookbook of hers that I have viewed, but I may have to go back and buy the other two!  It has sucked me in already.  Her style is to use healthful ingredients whenever possible, which perfectly suits my taste buds.  Last night I took my first stab at her recipes, and it was very successful.  I prepared the Polenta Casserole.  It was quite simple to make, easily customizable, and my husband said “very good,” …. a definite bonus.

The recipe called for fresh thyme, which would likely add a nice flavor boost, but I couldn’t locate it.  I added some extra oregano to compensate and the flavor still turned out wonderful.  I also added a chopped zucchini.  This is an addition I highly recommend.  It melded perfectly in this Mexican inspired casserole and added some needed veggies …

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This morning, we used up a past-its-prime banana to trial Dreena’s Banana Cream Pancakes.  They were a wonderful blend of banana, coconut milk, and spelt flour. We used just a bit too much banana, so our pancakes were a little bit dense, but my husband gobbled them up with fervor.  I try not to have sugar in the morning, so I had my pancakes with cashew butter.  They weren’t bad, but I recommend a sweeter topping for this sugar-free pancake.

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I have many other recipes marked from this cookbook… so I will keep you posted as the trials continue.  So far, so good!

Cupcake Cover-up

I have had the honor of previewing the many dessert recipes from the upcoming cookbook, My Sweet Vegan.  Of course, they must be trialed, and with a friend’s birthday approaching I knew some type of cake would be in order.  While I was tempted by the “cheese” cake recipes in the book, we were meeting at a restaurant, so something more transportable was required.  Since my friend is an avid sushi-goer, I lunged at the Wasabi Chocolate Cupcake recipe.

 I had every ingredient on hand, so making them was a snap.  Within 20 minutes the little pools of chocolate were in the oven.  If only I had set it on the right temperature!  Waiting the full 20 minutes before checking, I opened the oven and witnessed a rapid cupcake deflating.  Still several minutes from completion, I took a peak at the guage and discovered that I had set the oven temperature to low!  After turning the heat up, and another five minutes, the cupcakes were done, but not so pretty, considering the recipe called for a drizzling of wasabi glaze, not enough to cover up my concave results.

Thinking quickly, I jumped to another recipe in the cookbook and extracted the vanilla frosting recipe.  Quickly whipping up a small batch, I mounded the frosting into the center, and smoothed it over the top.  For a little extra visual insurance, I sprinkled the top with the mini-chocolate chips from Enjoy Life Foods (insanely allergen-free, even free of soy lecithin).

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My husband graciously acted as the taste tester to ensure that they were still gift-worthy (since I was sugared-out from eating every list bit of the frosting, yum!), and he gave them a thumbs up.  As for my friend’s response … “Mmm … good cupcake!”  She just reported back that they also make a good breakfast, lol.

While my friend is completely omnivorous, with no known allergies or intolerances, it seems these vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), nut-free, soy-free (I used rice milk) cupcakes passed the test!  I must agree, they were yummy… past tense of course.

If you do follow the recipe, using the right oven temp, your results should look more like this.

Fast & Inexpensive Meals … Finally, a Cookbook I am Actually Using!

I truly love perusing recipes … in fact I used to be a recipe-clipping addict.  Luckily, my frugality kept me from purchasing every cookbook in sight, especially considering I have only trialed about a dozen recipes from the little cookbook collection I am already housing.  Clipping, marking, and emailing recipes is one thing, but actually making them… for some reason that was always my stumbling block.  But a cookbook I recently received sparked something in me.  At long last, I was venturing new foods in the kitchen! 

The magical book? The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook … true, the name may not sound enticing to some, but the recipes within were so simple, so intriguing, and so filled with ingredients that I typically buy anyway, it was really a natural fit.  As someone who hadn’t tried a new recipe in months, I made guess how many recipes in just over a week… okay, I can’t hold it in… six.  That’s right, I tried six new recipes just like that.  Okay, I am counting the chocolate covered raisins and the saffron rice, but I gradually became more adventurous.  Here is what else I made…

First (or third if you count the first two recipes) up was Raf’s Cuban Beans & Rice.  These slow-cooked black beans were easy to prepare, as I left them to simmer for about 2 hours, stopping by to stir occasionally.  I drained the beans, assuming this step was required, but perhaps not. The honey can easily be replaced with maple syrup for a vegan pot of beans.  Serve with rice (I steamed a mix of red rice and brown rice) and a salad for a full vegan meal.  For my meaty husband, I served the beans and rice alongside some freshly made Italian sausage (on sale for $2.99/lb) and a serving of steamed broccoli. (sorry, this first pic is horrible, they do get a bit better!)

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Second up was the Penne with Cauliflower and Olives.  This was a very simple but tasty recipe.  I opted to stay vegan on this entrée, “beefing” up the penne with some extra sautéed veggies.  Our brown rice pasta had some issues, not cooking and sticking badly.  That was the only bummer of the whole meal.  Basically, you steam up the cauliflower and mash it with a fork for a chunky, clingy ingredient.  Add in the finely chopped olives (I recommend the canned pre-chopped olives, they are actually cheaper ounce for ounce, and easier), some fresh parsley, olive oil, garlic, and season with crushed red pepper flakes and salt to taste.

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Third up was the Falafels.  This was a fun one; I had never made falafels.  These are actually baked, rather than fried.  Lacking pita bread or even a tortilla, I served the little patties overtop a bed of jasmine rice and lightly steamed caught-it-just-in-time organic spinach.  While the author (Cybele Pascal) recommended her tahini sauce, I was lacking in tahini.  So I made a hummus sauce (I had some pre-packaged Trader Joe’s hummus on hand – picture is pre-sauce).  Really, this was an easy, tasty, and vegan entrée, that even my meaty husband positively loved.  I will be making these again!  As a side note, the recipe calls for oat flour.  A cheap and easy shortcut is to grind regular old oats in a spice grinder ($9 at the grocery store, best investment I have ever made) for about 30 seconds, until a nice flour develops.  Gluten-free consumers can by “safe” oats and make oat flour using this method too.

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Fourth up was the Creamy Avocado Chicken Salad.  I give this one a not bad.  Really, our fridge was running low.  No bread for a sandwich and no lettuce for a salad, so this chicken salad went atop quinoa.  The avocado dressing was a bit sweet for my tastes, but overall it was pretty good.  The chicken tenders were actually on for a cheaper price than the chicken breasts (always keep an eye on this) and they made for convenient preparation.

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The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook is free of the big eight allergens: milk, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, eggs, fish, and shellfish.  While there is a good-sized “meaty” section, I wouldn’t write Whole Foods Cookbookthis one off completely for vegans.  The egg-free, dairy-free nature makes for many excellent vegan baked goods and desserts (note: occasional small amounts of honey that look easily replaceable with another liquid sweetener), salads, dressings, snacks, and as you can see from the recipes I trialed, entrees and sides.  Actually, the vegan options easily won out taste-wise in our household.

So what was the damage?  Well, aside from a whole pile of dishes, I calculated that each full meal cost less than $3.00 to serve (and satiate) two of us, just $1.50 per full individual meal, or less really.  While I love eating out, I must admit this is quite a good deal for some easy recipes.  Thanks Cybele!