The Geographical Vegan

recipes, food snaps, and travel musings

Monday, May 28, 2007

Return from Hiatus

Every once in a while some well-intentioned friend or relative will ask me "hey, how's that cookbook coming along" and after thinking 'what cookbook?' and 'like I don't have enough to do' I remember that I've been neglecting my VGML blog.

So, I made some Sunday Night Pizza. I know I promised to disclose the secret to my gooey cheese sauce, but I got inspired by the Urban Vegan's use of the Tofu-Basil Ricotta recipe from the VwaV on her arugula pizza. So inspired, that I headed in that same direction for my own delicious pies.

Actually, there were two pizzas made. One recruited a combination of veggie sausage, leek, tofu ricotta, basil, toaster-bag-roasted red pepper, mushroom to make a big, tasty mess (see left).

The other pizza involved tomato, arugula, red pepper, garlic, green olive, tofu ricotta, and was only slightly less messy to eat.

This was one of my favourite Sunday night pizza sessions to date. Maybe because last night we were going for an over-the-top feast, so we cooked up a dozen faux-chicken drumsticks to go with the pizza. See the picture (right) for the drumsticks before they are soaked in marinade, basted, and baked.

The marinade is the key to their succulence. If you let them swim around in a simple warm marinade (whisk 1 tsp vegan "chicken" broth, 1 tsp light miso, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 1 Tbsp dry sherry, and a few drops of hickory smoke flavour into 2C boiling water) for an hour or two, they can be basted and baked (30 minutes at 450F) to uncanny resemblance to the real thing.

I decided to spice up the usual recipe by adding a liberal sprinkling of Blair's Jersey Death Hot Sauce to the barbeque sauce I used to coat the wings. I swear I only added about 6 drops of the stuff to the jar, and I even added a couple spoonfulls of agave nectar and sweet ginger paste to balance it. But when I shook it up and tasted it, I found that the spice level had increased alarmingly.

It says right on the bottle "not to be used without dilution" - and I believe them!

(Which is not to say that I haven't tried putting a drop of the hot sauce directly on my tongue... My -faulty- rationale was: "okay, it's the hottest death sauce sold by this new mexico store that sells 300 kinds of hot sauce. I've never found my personal limit for hot sauces ... this seems like a perfect way to find that personal limit, right?")

While I don't feel like I've yet hit the peak of my spice tolerance (there was no loss of consciousness, or permanent nerve damage), the sauce earned my respect with its fierceness. And judging by its potency after dilution, this bottle should last me until I graduate.

On a Sweeter Note:
For a friend's party the other day I made pistachio-chocolate bark with a spicy kick that hits you about 5 seconds after you take a bite. I don't regret shelling out for a pricy bag of 'stachios, because I think I've found a new favourite chocolate. Sooo easy to make.

Pistachio-Chocolate Bark (with a bite)
2 cups belgian chocolate discs
1.5 cups raw, shelled pistachio nuts
1/2 tsp mexican chili powder
1 tsp peanut oil
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper, divided

In a double-boiler over medium heat, slowly melt the chocolate, stirring ocasionally until completely melted. Be careful not to introduce any moisture to the bowl, or the chocolate will "seize" and become clumpy.

Meanwhile, toss the pistachios with the chili powder and oil, and 1/4 tsp of ground cayenne. Add the remaining 1/4 tsp cayenne to the melted chocolate, and stir well to combine.

When the chocolate has cooled slightly (2-3 minutes), gently fold in the pistachios and pour the mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper spread on a lightly-greased baking sheet. Cool in the fridge until completely hard, then break into 1" squares and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I've been busy

And not just busy cleaning oil out of the burners on my electric stove, but "real" busy: dealing with assignments, abstracts, reports, and other mundane, non-edible things in life.

When I'm so very busy, sometimes I let somebody else do the cooking. That's a good sign that I've gotten to an unprecedented level of busy.

But the results can be surprisingly excellent. Take Sunday, for example. I spent the afternoon at a friend's bridal shower/baby shower (yes, she's multi-tasking too...) and I had been up until 4am the previous day making a batch of very photogenic, if entirely undocumented, chocolate-blood orange cupcakes.

Exhausted from the party, and staring down the barrel of a long night of homework, I let Five do the cooking for once.

Beer Battered "Fish" 'n Chips with Minty Mushy Peas

1 350g block tofu, sliced thinly (~1/4" thick), and in triangle shapes

2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 12oz can beer (Boddington's works well, as would another pub lager)

1 tsp kelp powder, whisked into
1 cup cornstarch

4 large Russet potatoes, chopped up like french fries
3L vegetable oil (canola or corn oil are good choices)

Tartar Sauce
1 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 Tbsp dill pickle, chopped finely
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp lemon vodka (you can substitute 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 Tbsp vodka)
1 Tbsp wasabi (if using powdered wasabi, reconstitute 3/4 Tbsp powder in 3/4 Tbsp cold water)
1/2 tsp lemon zest

1) Press the tofu between clean tea towels, under a few pounds of cookbooks for about one hour. If you've never done this before, expect it to release a lot of water, but be a much tastier in the final dish.

2) While the tofu is pressing, soak the potatoes in cold water for at least one hour. Drain, and dry well using a clean tea towel. You should have used up most of your tea towels by now.

3) During that hour, feel free to make the tartar sauce. Leave it in the fridge until you're ready to eat. You can also spend your hour trying out the beer, to make sure it's... fresh. Just make sure you have at least one can left when you're ready to make the batter.

4) Make the batter: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, white pepper and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the beer until well blended and smooth. If the batter looks thicker than pancake batter, add a 1/4 cup more beer (you should have lots on hand, right?) or water. Put the bowl of batter in the fridge - the colder it stays, the better.

5) Preheat oven to 200F. Take out a big cookie sheet, cover it in newspapers (>8 pages deep), and place some of your cooling racks on top. Hopefully you have cooling racks - you make cupcakes, don't you?? If you don't, a metal steamer basket or colander might work, if it is oven-safe.

6) Heat oil in a deep pot to 275F. A candy thermometer clipped to the side of the pot is a good way to get there accurately. If the oil smokes, take it off the heat and don't add any food until it has stopped smoking. Reprimand it harshly.

7) Working in small batches, add potatoes to the pot of hot oil and cook until soft but still pale. Remove potatoes and drain on the rack/cookie sheet aparatus. Keep them warm in the oven.

8) Turn up the heat, and bring the oil temperature to 350F. Lightly dredge tofu (where did you put it? look under the cookbooks!) in cornstarch and kelp powder, and then dip in batter, coating evenly. Carefully add battered tofu to pot and cook until golden, turning once. Remove tofu and drain on the same rack in the oven.

9) The last step! With the oil still at 350F, refry the potatoes for a few more minutes, until golden and crisp, then drain on the newspaper again.

10) Serve your oil-drenched meal with sea salt, malt vinegar, lemon wedges, tartar sauce, and whatever beer you still have left in the fridge. Listen for the seagulls.

Wait, what about the mushy peas? Well, we forgot too, until the last minute.

Minty Mushy Peas

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 green onion
1 handfull fresh mint
200g frozen peas
1 Tbsp vegan margarine
salt and pepper

In a small soup pot, heat oil and add onion and mint. Cook for a few minutes, then add peas, cover and cook for five minutes on high heat, until peas are done. Stir in margarine, mash it up like crazy, and season to taste.

Kudos: The recipe for the beer batter and the chips is courtesy of Cooking with Booze by Ryan Jennings & David Steele. We changed it in a few ways, but they deserve some credit. The mushy peas are courtesy of Jamie Oliver, with some small changes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

southern food

When I'm as tired out as I was yesterday, I have humility to follow recipes - and usually to stick to their suggestions.

From "chicken-fried steak" done using tofu, without the gravy, and grilled cajun portobello mushrooms.

The tofu is crying out for the chance to pretend to be fried fish, so "fish and chips" will likely appear soon. Complete with tartar sauce and newspaper.

Happy planet day!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

winging it

Pardon the pun.
But when I got home yesterday, I discovered the home-made BBQ sauce I had stashed in the back of the fridge for making grilled things and faux chicken wings had gone off.

After swearing for a while, I realized that I was faced with a simple dilemma:

1) Go out and get more sauce,
2) Get more raw ingredients to make new BBQ sauce, or
3) Make something else entirely.

I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one drawn to the third option.

The door of my fridge is (to use some hilarious phrasology I picked up from my boss at work) a "higgildy piggildy" of multi-national spices and sauces. My options for flavour are unrestricted, though I had to be inventive in how the raw materials were assembled.

To describe the results:

"Chickehn" DrumsticksIsland Banana and Thai Peanut flavoured (recipes below)

served with

GarlicRoasted Baby Beets & Mashed Yucca

— and you can see that a big pile of steamed broccoli, as well as some julienned orange pepper accompanied the drumsticks, beets and yucca to its happy consumption.

The Sauces

These are truly exciting recipes. I recommend starting with some fake–meat (fake drumsticks, for example, or any fake chicken could easily substitute) and letting it marinade in few cups of hot broth with miso, tamari and ground pepper mixed in. This gives it a better depth of flavour. I also dissolve in one teaspoon of Vegemite in my "hot marinade," as a secret ingredient.

The sauces can be used to coat the faux–meat before it is baked (400 F for 30 minutes) or grilled (15 minutes one side, 5 minutes on the other). Basting with more sauce half-way through is recommended but not absolutely essential.

Leftover sauce is an obvious candidate for dipping, though double-dipping is not everyone's cup of tea.

Island Banana Sauce (hot)

2 Tbsp ginger syrup
1 very ripe banana
1/3 cup banana ketchup
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/2 tsp piripiri (birdseye chili) sauce
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp crushed, dried cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground sweet chili powder
1/2 cup orange juice
3 Tbsp apple cider vineagar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp chiplotle sauce
1/4 tsp rum extract
2 Tbsp lime juice

In a small saucepan, bring all the ingredients except the last two (rum extract and lime juice) to a simmer, whisking often or stirring with a fork. Simmer, stirring often, for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in rum extract and lime juice. Use as a basting sauce or as a dipping sauce.

Spicy Peanut Sauce (medium)
4 Tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
4 Tbsp apple cider vineagar
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp ginger syrup
1/2 cup barley syrup or dark molasses
2 pickled Thai bird chilis (red or green)
1/2 cup sweet Thai chili dipping sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Thai chili paste (green curry with holy basil)
1 key lime leaf
1/8 cup basil leaves
1 T coconut cream powder
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce

Bring oyster sauce, vinegar, peanut butter, ginger syrup and barley syrup to a boil in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Add chilis, dipping sauce, garlic, chili paste, lime leaf and basil. Boil for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add coconut cream powder and tamari, and whisk or blend with a hand mixer until well combined. Use as a basting sauce or as a dip.

I have nothing to add after those crazy recipes. Good luck, and don't be threatened by naked chicken wings — just let them inspire you to try harder!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Heaven in Chicago

I visited heaven today.

(I know, I know! Such a surprise that I was admited!)

The heaven I'm reverring to is USA's first certified organic bakery: The Bleeding Heart Bakery. (2018 West Chicago ave, bw Damen & Hoyne - website under construction)

They make magical food there. Below, witness the sort of magical food, slaved over by American Culinary Federation's pastry chef of the year Michelle Garcia.

I'd prefer to think of her as a pastry activist, turning her high ethical and animal–rights standards into edible art.

(slobber, slobber)

I had brunch today at the Bakery, enjoying tofu chiliquilas with refried beans, and splitting a pecan tart with my gracious hosts. My sweet tooth isn't well developped enough to properly exploit the potential of this restaurant (another vegan option on the menu was the "Smores Pancake Platter") but just being surrounded by sweet 'n' fancy vegan food was a tickling thrill.

All the vegan cupcakes whispering "eat me eat me eat me" — and the only thing sustaining my restraint is the knowledge of the stupor/coma that would surely ensue. A sugar coma would have ruined my afternoon, which I gleefully squandered in bookstores.

Dinner in Someone Else's Kitchen

Tonight I dished up some impromptu fare to feed myself and my host. I love cooking in other people's kitchens — it makes even a minor culinary success feel lucky, as not being able to find most of the ingredients you'd like to use is the kitchen equivalent of a racing handicap.

Alongside some organic brown vegan rice, we enjoyed a paneer–esque preparation of tofu, tossed unceremoniously into a green bean and sweet potato curry dish. Tasty, but not very photogenic. My camera was left at home, so it hardly matters.

I can't wait to see the vegan airplane food tomorrow (I'm flying home in the comfy seats) — I like to start by expecting disappointment and then being pleasantly surprised when things turn out to be edible. Usually they break my heart by serving me cucumber and anaemic tomato on soggy white bread sandwiches, and sliced melon.

Coming up: More on my hate of all things melon and melon–related.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Back on the Wing

The Geographical Vegan is gettin' all geographical again.

I'm in the Calgary airport, lamenting the uniformly decrepid green furniture, and waiting for my flight to Chicago.

(Stay tuned for updates from my four days in the chilly midwest....)

I was worried that my locally-grown, organic purple kale would go bad in my absence, so I cooked up some non-photogenic food late last night to carry on the plane for lunch today: some sort of cajun-mushroom-black-bean-yellow-pepper-fry-up. It turned out to be one of those recipes that's quite good for you, very edible, but there are so many things about it that were either poorly executed or need correction that it's really not worth mentioning.

I don't know what posessed me to try and convince celery, shitake mushrooms, black turtle beans, a yellow bell pepper, and cajun spices to get along. I think I pictured some sort of oyster-y gumbo. I really must have been tired.

Cooking regrets are the heartbreaking part of this hobby. I remember a couple of years ago, making a vegan peanut-butter boston-creme pie from a cookbook by a writer who claimed you could substitute all the goey eggs, cream, butter, etc. that go into sinful carnivore desserts with healthy and expensive starches, oils, and binders.

She could not have been more wrong. Now while it might be the case that I made one or two crucial deviations from her original instructions that sent the whole piece down the road to tragic failure, but I suspect it was because the premise itself was a little incorrect.

You can't substitute everything. You can substitute butter, you can even substitute whipped cream, you can get by without eggs, but you can't just substitute something unealthy and unvegan with something healthy and vegan.

Ie. custard with whipped tofu. Nobody's going to be fooled! And if it really needed custard, nobody's going to be happy! (There are sneakier ways, people; be creative.)

While the peanut-butter-boston-cream-pie may have been one very expensive failure, it was also a good lesson in baking hubris. Once I got out of my very bad foodie-failure mood (we had to throw the whole thing out!) I got over it.

Now that I've learned my lesson in impromptu midnight cajun cooking (for the meantime), perhaps this is an opportunity for me to make my own personal list of non-photogenic foods. Foods that don't blog well (usually), or maybe require a lot more primping before they're ready for the camera.

Not-So Photogenic Foods

Hummus - hands down winner, always looks pasty, even if it just came back from a week in Cancun

Black Bean Soup - too shiny to shoot while hot, but usually looks greenish-grey when cool

Cocoa-covered Truffles - they look like dusty rocks, or bunny poo

Iceburg Lettuce - the camera reveals its truely diabolical nature

bok-choy and tofu stir-fry - but that often doesn't look good in person, unless you've been hiking in Peru for two weeks and you'd kill for some cruciferous veggies

banana almost anything - I don't know why this is

vegan cheesecake - pasty, usually, but this is up for debate

I'm sure there are others. I'm open to suggestions.

Here are some pictures from a very sexy photo shoot of some oyster mushrooms. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Morchella elata least that's what I think they were called.

Now I can't check because I ate them all. Ate all what? Morels.

Let's start with a bit of background, shall we? For the first 19 years of my life, I couldn't eat mushrooms. I could not be in the same room when they were being prepared, the merest hint of fungi in a soup, salad, pizza, anything and I would turn green and abandon the whole meal.

The smell turned my stomach, the thought of biting down on one was enough to ruin my appetite. As far as food aversions go, I would have been awarded top marks for my hatred of mushrooms.

What changed? I haven't a clue. It was around the same time that I learned how to blow bubbles with bubble gum that I found I was able to eat mushrooms. No, I certainly don't think the two events were related. Nobody in their right mind would associate the two rites of passage.

Putting aside how ridiculous it is to have not been able to blow bubbles with bubble gum until I was 19, let's get back to the topic of mushrooms.

Anyone who read the post from a couple of days ago will remember that I made a lovely "lobster and oyster mushroom bisque," and forshadowed an upcoming cooking experiment involving morels, the delectable and pricy edible cap fungus.

After carefully washing and slicing the epigious ascocarps, and discarding the bottoms of their stems, I prepared them in the following perfect way:

Early Morels with Spring Greens

5 large fresh early morels, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 pinches of coarse salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 oz cubed vegan cheese (I used the Edam flavour of Scheese)*
2 Tbsp tamari
1 Tbsp aged balsamic
3 cups mixed spring greens (baby kale, chard, and other young Brassica species), wet from washing
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

*available from VeganEssentials

Fry morels in olive oil at medium-high heat until liquids begin to be released from the mushrooms. Add the salt and stir well for a couple of minutes, as the mushroom liquids boil and are condensed. Add garlic powder, stirring, and vegan cheese. Continue to fry until edges of the cheese begin to brown.
Add tamari and vinegar, stirring to combine, and boil to reduce liquids further.
Add spring greens, and cover to wilt, the stir to combine. Turn off heat when greens are uniformly wilted and bright green. Stir in toasted sesame seeds, and serve hot.

Toast is suggested (morels like being served with toast). If the photo looks a bit fuzzy, it's because I was too hungry to try very hard. I think you get the idea.

The Easter Chipmunk

Lindt released a dark chocolate bunny this year! Vegans, rejoice.

The ears got eaten first - they are the tastiest part.

It really is a lot of chocolate, though, when you've been eating cupcakes and truffles all weekend.
Maybe I should melt down our Eastern Chipmunks and turn them into fondu?

(Don't worry, they can't hear me plotting their demise...)