Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Peanut butter bliss cake

Stop the presses. Hold the phones. Drop everything you are doing, RUN to your kitchen, and make this now.

It’s my take on a Nava Atlas recipe, and ladies and gentlemen, this is one of the three best cakes I have ever made. I can’t even be sure where it ranks within the top three – it may very well be number one. Imagine a moist, gooey, peanut-butter laced cake, studded with melty chocolate chips and crunchy crushed peanuts, that melts in your mouth like some sort of giant Reese’s PB cup. I am a peanut butter FREAK, and I’m telling you, if you even mildly like peanut butter, YOU HAVE TO MAKE THIS.

Did I mention that it’s low-sugar, whole wheat, and vegan?
Does life get any better?

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup soymilk (vanilla or plain)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tsp nut oil (optional)
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped peanuts

A couple notes and tips...
- You can use all-purpose flour in place of whole wheat pastry if you want.
- You can use any type of milk (rice, almond, even ::cringe:: dairy).
- The nut oil is optional; I just added it for extra sumptuousness. You can use walnut, almond, hazelnut, macadamia nut (like me!), or even just canola.
- The easiest way to measure a half cup of PB is to fill a 2-cup measuring cup up to the 1 1/2-cup mark. Spoon in PB until the water reaches the 2-cup mark. Just drain off the water, and voilà.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Combine the applesauce, soymilk, peanut butter, and oil in another bowl and whisk together until smooth.

Pour the wet ingredients in with the dry and stir together until fairly well blended, then whisk until the mixture is smooth.

Stir in the chocolate chips and all but a tablespoon of the peanuts. Pour into a greased 9-inch round (or square) cake pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden, and a knife inserted in the center comes out with chocolate, but no batter.

At this point, it is divine as-is, but I decided it needed some extra flair, and some concealer for those little cracks in the top. So I whipped up an impromptu chocolate glaze. I just eyeballed it – I’d say I used about 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 3T cocoa powder, and just enough soymilk to make it smooth (add it a tsp at a time).

Spread the glaze over the warm cake, sprinkle with the remaining peanuts, and set aside to cool. It’ll be difficult to wait very long.

Now prepare for the most luscious peanut butter experience of your life.

There are no words. It rendered me speechless. (And not just because of that delightful peanut-butter-on-roof-of-mouth effect that leaves your tongue lolling about in sticky glee.) There’s really no describing it – you’ll just have to make it yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Yield: 12 slices. Per slice (with nut oil, without glaze): 240 calories, 13.3g fat (4g sat), 27.8g carbs, 2.5g fiber, 5.1g protein.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Sesame hummus noodles

I pretty much can't stand Rachael Ray. The cackle, the Joker smile, the lame slang, the incessant chattiness, the fact that she's everywhere. That said, her food is not all bad. In fact, I have to give her (along with most of the Food Network personalities) credit for helping to get me interested in cooking in college. I also subscribe to her magazine – flashy and overpriced though it is, it's the best way to have access to her recipes and ideas without actually having to listen to her. Brilliant! Obviously, most of her food is very fatty, very not-vegan, or (usually) both, but you'd be surprised how much of it adaptable. This recipe caught my eye right away – hummus freak that I am, I had never thought to use it in a stir fry sauce. A few tweaks later, this recipe is inventive, delectable, AND vegan.

1 lb whole-grain angel hair pasta
3/4 cup hummus
1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
2T soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sriracha (or more)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 oz. snow peas, halved diagonally
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup peanuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 5 minutes. Add the snow peas during the last minute of cooking. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the hummus, water, soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, and garlic. I used storebought hummus. I'd had it in my cabinet forever, because it was the last jar I had bought before I started making my hummus myself.

Add the red pepper and carrot to the pasta, and toss it with the hummus sauce, thinning out with the pasta water as necessary.

Top each serving with the scallions, peanuts, sesame seeds, and additional sriracha if desired.

It's a good thing this was tasty, because the other caveat about Rachael Ray's recipes is that "serves 4" really means "serves 6-8 normal humans." (A quarter pound of pasta per person? Who is she feeding?!) So although I made this for dinner last Tuesday, I just ate the last serving of it for lunch today. Wondering if I got sick of it? As a matter of fact, I didn't. So all you single people out there, feel free to make this without fear of wastage. You may even find yourself glad, as I did, that you still have some left to eat days later.

Yield: 6-8 servings. Per serving (6): 460 calories, 14.6g Fat (1.8g sat), 68.5g carbs, 11.5g fiber, 16.8g protein.
Per serving (8): 345 calories, 11g fat (1.3g sat), 51.4g carbs, 8.6g fiber, 12.6g protein

If you like this, you might also like...
Vegan lo mein

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Almost vegan cruise, part 3

The last few of my cruise dinners were just as tasty as the first few. Here’s another curry – this one was cauliflower, and was particularly oily (in a good way).

This lovely fruit appetizer had orange, grapes, cantaloupe, kiwi, grapefruit, and strawberry topped with a passionfruit glaze.

This mixed vegetable curry contained cauliflower, potato, carrot, and green beans.

I was thrilled one night to see roasted red pepper hummus with pita as an appetizer. When it came, though, I realized my excitement was not quite justified. It was very good, but two bites of hummus is just not enough. If these people only knew how much hummus I eat at home...

My favorite non-Indian dish of the trip was this Asian fried tofu with stir-fried vegetables and a curry dipping sauce. Mmm, I still think about this one.

The last of my curries (sniffle) was chickpea, and it tied with the first one as my favorite overall. Oh, how I’ll miss these.

This pumpkin sage soup was a dreamy appetizer.

On the final night, the Indian entrée was a mixed vegetable biriyani. It was good, but not as rich and succulent as the curries I had become accustomed to.

So there you have it – a week’s worth of dinners at sea, as well as some neat foodie sights along the way. I loved the trip, I loved visiting Mexico, and I can only hope my next cruise is not too far in the future.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Almost vegan cruise, part 2

In Mazatlán, Nick and I took part in a walking tour. One stop we made early on was a little one-woman bakery, located in one of the homes in the old part of town. We walked in and were greeted by the sight of dozens of sweet treats, in baskets, on trays, on shelves, all over the room.

I’ll tell you point blank, I have no idea which of these were vegan, if any. There might be butter, but then again, shortening is cheaper. There are almost certainly eggs in some, but many were pie-crust based. But how could I say no to two for $1?! I bought four. (Wouldn’t you know, upon returning to the ship, they said perishable items were not allowed back on board. So I stepped aside and ate half of each of the four treats before throwing the rest away. I couldn’t bear not to at least taste them!)

By the way, the décor in this little place was wild; hundreds of pictures covered the walls. And here’s the lady that ran the place and baked everything – how cute is she?! Something about her reminds me of my grandma Nanny.

On that same walking tour, we passed through an open-air Mexican market. This, for me, was one of the highlights of the entire trip. There was so much food piled in so many booths that I can’t even begin to list what I saw. I’ll let some pictures do the talking:

Gah! Before we were herded out, I bought a quarter pound of pecans, a quarter pound of slivered almonds, a quarter pound of roasted almonds, a homemade pecan bar, and a LITER of vanilla – for $14.50. I was quite proud.

Next, in Puerto Vallarta, we toured a little tequila factory. It was on a small hacienda in the countryside, a good half hour from town. Check out these agave plants – the source of both tequila and agave nectar.

We got to sample half a dozen tequilas at the end of the tour, and then I decided to throw caution to the wind and get a margarita too. (I never drink margaritas, or any sugary drink for that matter, but I was in Mexico!) However, I may now never drink tequila again. This was the margarita of DEATH. There was no sweet taste. No strawberry taste. Barely even any ice taste! It was practically pure tequila. I drank as much as I could, but my taste buds couldn’t take it anymore halfway through. I tried to pawn the rest off on Nick, but after a few sips, he didn’t want it either. The bigger problem, though, was how everything we ate or drank for the rest of the day tasted like tequila. EVERYTHING, and to a disturbing degree. I shiver just thinking about it...but, at least I got to keep the cup.

Lastly, here are a few pictures from the midnight buffet. I actually didn’t end up eating much – just fried plantains, some fruit with chocolate fondue, and a couple baked goods (really, not as much as it sounds). Most of it was stuff we had already had at other meals. But of course, the point of the midnight buffet is extravagance, and it was a feast for the eyes as much as for the belly.

The bread table was pretty impressive.

This lady here? She’s made entirely of chocolate.

And there were ice sculptures and carved fruit aplenty.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the last installment of my week of gluttony.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Almost vegan cruise, part 1

It’s cruise time! This is the first of three entries detailing some of my food adventures at sea. This entry and the third will feature my dinners, and the second will show some food-related things I encountered on the trip.

I only have pictures of the dinners because it would have been ridiculous to try to photograph the breakfast and lunch buffets – there were about a ten different buffet bars, each with dozens of food items apiece. And oh, it was delicious...actually, most days, we didn’t even eat lunch, because our breakfasts were HUGE. I started each morning with a big bowl of fruit, followed by breakfast potatoes, fried rice, oatmeal with brown sugar and golden raisins, and (the real kicker) fried plantains, in addition to several dishes-of-the-day each day. We’d often get a snack in the afternoon, and then we stuffed ourselves with three-course dinners in the evenings. To put it in perspective: I ran a total of 30 miles on that ship (on the treadmill, spread out over 7 days), and I still gained 3 pounds. Yeah.

Anyway, moving on...
The first evening, I got right down to business and ordered two entrees (each night, you can order as many items as you want. No joke). I sampled a Mediterranean quesadilla – grilled bell peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini in a sundried tomato tortilla, served with salsa. Not bad, but not great, largely because I just don’t like mushrooms.

I also ordered the vegetarian curry selection. (There was one on the menu every night, and yes, every night, I ordered it. Be ready to see more curries throughout these entries.) This one, my second favorite of the trip overall, was a cauliflower and potato curry. The curries were always served with rice, pappadum, and some particularly yummy roti. They also came with raita, but that was disposed of.

On Italian night, I ordered minestrone soup as my appetizer, but it was unlike any other minestrone soup I’ve ever heard of. Instead of broth, it seemed to be based on a tomato puree, and it contained just a handful of veggies and beans, along with broken spaghetti strands. Strange, but I enjoyed it. I likened it to sipping a bowlful of a tasty pizza sauce (that’s a good thing).

I got two entrees that night too. The first was a fried eggplant tower with marinara sauce. This one did have cheese on it, but a) I peeled it off anyway, and b) I didn’t care for the dish, so I quit after a few bites. I want so much to like eggplant, but most of the time, I just don’t.

The curry was dal and potato. Yummy.

The next night’s tropical fruit appetizer contained watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberry, mango, papaya, and lychee; can't go wrong. But that green thing on there is a dollop of mint jelly, ew! I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet on here, but I HATE anything mint. Gum, breath mints, mouthwash, toothpaste, you name it – I won’t eat it or use it if it’s minty.

The curry was potato (yes, again, but it was always good!) and bell pepper.

And finally, this entrée was actually Nick’s, but I wished it were mine! It’s a vegetarian chili with three (count ‘em, THREE!) different kinds of beans (navy, kidney, and chickpea, to be exact – the inclusion of chickpea is genius) in a tomatoey base full of carrots and green peppers. It came with a heavenly piece of cornbread. This is how good it was: Nick hates beans, and not only did he eat this, he declared it his favorite meal of the whole trip. Yay!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Vegan Night: spaghetti & cheesecake

The week before the cruise, I joined Melissa and Molly for Vegan Night. I headed to Melissa’s house in my hometown of North Kansas City, and when I arrived, I was met at the door with the savory scent of homecooked spaghetti sauce.

Melissa already had the green peppers sauteed and the soy crumbles browned, and to that she added a couple cans of tomato sauce, a packet or two of storebought spaghetti sauce mix, a drained can of mushrooms, a sprinkle of flaxseeds, salt/pepper/garlic/herbs, and finally her Secret Ingredient.

She gave me the ok to let you in on it: it’s a healthy handful of brown sugar. We spooned the sauce atop whole wheat pasta and feasted, sipping fruity cocktails between bites.

Molly had brought dessert, and it had me drooling from the moment it was unveiled: a vegan Oreo cheesecake.

The filling contained a blend of vegan cream cheese, silken tofu, and Newman O’s, baked and chilled in a chocolate wafer crust. If you think vegan cheesecake can’t be good, you are sorely mistaken. I ate two pieces, and honestly, I could probably have put away a third. I’m still waiting for her to send me this recipe—I WILL be making this at home!

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Friday, November 14, 2008

October leftovers

::Hides face:: I know, I know! I took a much longer hiatus than planned. But you have understand! – after a week at sea, with unlimited food and fruit, long afternoon runs, and relaxation time aplenty, it’s been very difficult to transition back to life on land. Don’t you feel sorry for me? No? Well, ok.

The cruise was fantastic – but you’ll have to wait to hear about it. Before I divulge my week of pure gluttony, I have some clean-up to do. I’ve got several little things from October that didn’t warrant entries of their own, but that deserve to be shared nonetheless. So here are my October leftovers. Following this entry, I’ll tell you about the vegan night I had with a couple friends before leaving town, and then I’ll get to the trip. It’ll be worth the wait.

Ok, first up: a meal I had the first week of October. This one has been waiting in queue for far too long. I went with Nick’s family to Thai Place (not only Nick’s and my favorite Thai restaurant, but also the location of our first date) for his mom’s birthday. I had the panang curry – tofu and bell pepper swimming in a rich sauce of cocunut milk and peanut butter, with jasmine rice alongside. As you can see, I was so impatient that I almost started eating it before snapping a picture.

One lazy Sunday afternoon, I coughed up the six bucks it cost me to try California Pizza Kitchen’s Tuscan hummus appetizer. It was a white bean puree with chopped tomato and basil chiffonade, and came with “flatbread” which was really just pita. It was ok, but rather thin, and not near as good as the white bean dip I make at home. (I use a Giada de Laurentiis recipe; I’ll put it up on here sometime.) But oh well, at least now my curiosity is sated.

Nick and I paid another visit to Po’s the week before my marathon, and I got another brand new dish. I’ve now had five different dishes at Po’s the five times I’ve eaten there, and they’ve all been amazing. It’s very rare that I try that many dishes anywhere – I usually find one or two things I like and stick to them. But with the great luck I’ve had at Po’s, I plan to continue exploring the menu.

This beautiful pile of deliciousness is noodles with black bean sauce. Yes, there are noodles in there, underneath about a pound of fresh, crisp mixed vegetables. This was unbelievable – it may very well be my favorite there ever. I didn’t even get it with tofu (since I was carb-loading), and that is the only thing that could possibly have made it more divine. There were so many veggies, and they didn’t use just any old type of noodle, either – these were the thickest, chewiest, most voluptuous udon noodles I’ve ever tasted, all bathed in a sweet-salty black bean sauce. I really just can’t get over this one.

::Fans self:: But ok, moving on. One Saturday on the way home from Nick’s house, I stopped at Whole Foods. (Even though it's bigger and arguably "better," I rarely go there since Wild Oats is practically right next door to me, and I'm rather loyal to it.) Near the back of the store, I met the Yummy’s Choice guy! If you’re not in or around the Midwest, you won’t know who that is, but if you’ve ever been in a natural foods store in the KC area, you’ve seen his handmade local dips in the refrigerated section. (See or order his stuff here.) He was manning a table full of samples of all his products – a half dozen different kinds of hummus (plain, spicy, roasted red pepper, garlic, etc.), baba ghanouj, olive spreads, marinated feta (for the non-vegans), and more, all of which he was dishing out on his homemade pita chips. And the dude was not stingy, either – as soon as I finished one bite, he’d hand over another, and another, till I’d tried almost all of them. He makes it in small batches right here in KC and delivers it fresh to area stores, and it was all wonderful. That’s him on the package.

I had never bought or tried any of his stuff, though, because it’s a little pricey; anywhere from $4.99 to $6.99 per package. But since he was such a nice and generous guy, and I thought it was cool that he was there giving away his own product, I bought some of his baba ghanouj in support of him (and my taste buds). It was thick, garlicky, not-too-smoky, and highly addictive.

Finally, I had a two-year-old Williams Sonoma gift card that I only recently spent. The problem was that it was for just $30, and if you’ve ever been in that store, you’ll know that nothing there is cheap. I’d put off spending it because I figured I’d have to use it to pay for a portion of something more expensive, and I just haven’t wanted or needed to buy anything expensive (at least not there). But I decided I needed to just use it up, so I did something I would normally never do – I bought a couple of tiny and very overpriced items. I bought a wooden spoon for $5 (that one was a necessity; I burned up my old one) along with a $16 jar of local maple syrup (only like 12 ounces of it, too!) and a $12 jar of “Indian Slow Cooking Sauce.” Yes, $12 for a jar of sauce. I justified it by saying I was treating myself to something I’d never normally buy, and at no expense to me. And you guessed it, it was accidentally vegan – no cream or even ghee, just tomato, coconut milk, and spices.

My preparation of it was very simple: two cans of chickpeas + the sauce, simmered on the stove for 20 minutes. Complicated, eh?

I made some brown basmati rice alongside, and I must admit, this sauce was delicious. Well-balanced, mildly spicy, thick, and savory. Would I buy it again? Unfortunately, not for $12. But I'm happy to have been able to give myself such a nice weeknight treat.

Past leftovers...
Vegan restaurant meals

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