The Great CriFSMas Food Roundup, 2012 edition!

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

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A basket of chai cookies, oatmeal cream pies, and eggnog cookies for our neighbors.
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You guys, I did so much baking this holiday season! Instead of buying my family the customary vegan treats from etsy, I had the bright idea to make everything my own bad self. (“Make everyone’s presents by hand, she said. It’ll be fun, she said.” reads a mid-December entry in my journal.) Several weeks and a dozen or so batches of cookies later, and I am wiped out. Good thing I have extra cookies to keep me going, eh?

Many of the recipes are from Kelly Peloza’s The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, which I’m quickly growing to love. My mom gave it to me a Christmas or two ago, but given my awful track record with cookies and other baked sweets, I hadn’t gotten much use out of it. (Until now!)

Much to my surprise, everything came out wonderfully! Not a single burned cookie in the bunch. I think the secret is in the parchment paper. I’ve been resistant to using the stuff in the past, because it feels like I’m wasting paper or something. But it really works! Pro tip: as long as they haven’t picked up any cookie residue, you can reuse sheets of parchment paper several times to save money and resources. This is especially helpful if you’re baking multiple batches of cookies in a single day.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of all the holiday goodies to pass through my kitchen (and gullet! yay the imagery!) this month. Mostly cookies, but also fancy nuts, truffles, ice cream, pizza, and pasta!

 

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Chewy Spiced Molasses Cookies from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur (page 228) – Mine didn’t come out quite as plump and chewy as the ones pictured in the book, but I think that’s because I made the cookies a little smaller than suggested.

Actually, that was a trend pretty much across the board – I ended up with more, slightly smaller cookies vs. fewer, larger cookies (the latter being the norm for me). It was all good though, because the smaller cookies were a better fit for the tupperware I used to pack and ship them. Score!

Chewy or not, these were still super-delish, though not nearly as nommy as some of the other cookies I tried.

(More below the fold…)

Cookbook Review: The Chinese Vegan Kitchen, Donna Klein (2012)

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Toss the takeout menus and get cooking!

five out of five stars

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the publisher’s behest.

I’ve taken to reviewing cookbooks lately because I like the challenge. I can be rather lazy when it comes to cooking, and tend to procrastinate to the point where my only choices for dinner are last night’s leftovers – or a pita bread pizza. Making unfamiliar dishes, on the other hand, requires planning and flexibility – my culinary arch nemeses! Enter: the cookbook review. Since publisher-provided review copies usually come with a deadline (albeit self-imposed, but then I’m always my own biggest critic), they provide just the right amount of motivation to keep me on track.

So when Penguin USA offered me a free copy of The Chinese Vegan Kitchen: More Than More Than 225 Meat-free, Egg-free, Dairy-free Dishes from the Culinary Regions of China (Donna Klein, 2012) for review, I jumped at the chance. Though I love (some) “Chinese food,” my experiences up until now have been limited to the occasional takeout and prepackaged vegan egg rolls found at the local supermarket’s “meals to go” cooler. Before last month, I’d never so much as made my own lo mein – let alone assembled egg rolls from scratch!

The same time I was working my way through the recipes in The Chinese Vegan Kitchen, Salon featured an interview with English Fuchsia Dunlop in which she “explain[ed] Western misperceptions about one of our favorite culinary imports”: There is no “Chinese cuisine”. In a country as large and diverse as China – more the size of a continent than a nation – to speak of one common culinary style amounts to an “over-simplification.” Chinese food, says Dunlop, is at once “varied and multi-faceted,” yes shares certain cultural elements.

Luckily, chef and food writer Donna Klein – whose library includes several previous regional cookbooks (Vegan Italiano, The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, The Tropical Vegan Kitchen) – seems to know her stuff. Having lived in China for a year, Klein begins The Chinese Vegan Kitchen with a brief explanation of China’s regional cuisines. The recipes which follow are reflective of China’s diversity, with dishes from Hunan, Sichuan, Hainan, Shanghai, Yunnan, Tibet, and Northwestern China, to name just a few.

Prior to writing this review, I made about a dozen different recipes:
Velvet Corn Soup (page 35)
Roasted Carrots with Sesame and Ginger (page 155)
Stir-Fried Bok Choy & Shiitake Mushrooms (page 152)
Baked Vegetable Eggless Egg Rolls (page 12) with the Basic Dipping Sauce (page 9)
Roasted Sesame Green Beans (page 160)
Hunan-Style Baked Sweet Potato “French Fries” with Chili Sauce (page 161)
Pantry Lo Mein (page 98)
Microwaved Sichuan Green Beans (page 160)
Instant Ramen Noodle Soup with Vegetables (page 45)
Country-Style Vegetable Stew with Tofu Puffs (page 43)
Chinese Corn Flour Flatbread (page 6)
Sichuan-Style Lo Mein with Sesame and Garlic (page 100)
Sesame-Mustard Vinaigrette (page 60)

I would have liked to have tried a more diverse selection – including at least one seitan and several more rice dishes – before publishing this review, but I also wanted to get it up in time for the holiday shopping season. If you’re still shopping, look no further: The Chinese Vegan Kitchen would make an excellent gift for the Chinese food afficionado/aspiring chef in your life – vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike!

Nearly all of the recipes I tried were winners. (Photos and individual reviews are included after the jump!) Among the standouts are the Baked Sweet Potato Fries (which we enjoyed as part of our Thanksgiving dinner); the Instant Ramen Noodle Soup (with a very high taste-to-effort ratio); the Velvet Corn Soup (different!); and the Roasted Carrots with Sesame and Ginger and Roasted Sesame Green Beans (which I bet would taste amazing together!).

Though I had some trouble here and there, most of it concerned obtaining the right ingredients for the job. For example, I was unable to find vegan egg rolls, so I had to swap them out for spring rolls when making Baked Vegetable Eggless Egg Rolls. Since the filling is rather saucy – and the spring roll wrappers, thinner than their egg roll counterparts – this resulted in not a little leakage during baking. Still, the rolls were super-delicious and I’ve no doubt that my results will only improve once I’m able to get my hands on some proper egg rolls.

(More below the fold…)

Scallion Pancakes, straight from The Chinese Vegan Kitchen!

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

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Donna Klein’s latest cookbook, The Chinese Vegan Kitchen, drops today (the kids are still saying this, yes?), and the folks at Penguin USA were nice enough to offer me a copy for review!

Even though I’ve been cooking from it like a wild woman (exhibit A: my flickr stream), I’ve still got a list of “must-try” recipes a legal pad long: Pot Stickers with Cabbage and Shiitake Mushrooms. Classic Chinese Pancakes. Fried Basmati Rice with Black-Eyed Peas and Wanuts. Tibetan Lentil Soup. Chinese Potato Salad. Shanghai-Style Noodles with Green Onion Sauce. Chinese Sweet Walnuts. And yes, Scallion Pancakes! (My stomach is rumbling just thinking about it.) I keep meaning to make these, but forgetting to budget the extra time required to let the dough rise. Bulbs!

To celebrate the book’s release, Penguin offered up a recipe – really two in one! – from The Chinese Vegan Kitchen. Scallion Pancakes with a Garlic Chive–Ginger Dipping Sauce, yum! Go make a batch and save some for me? I’ll be over here holding my breath, kay.

If you’d like a copy for your own bad self (or maybe for a friend or relative – x-mas is fast approaching, yo!), The Chinese Vegan Kitchen is available via Penguin USA for $18.95. Penguin also published many of Klein’s past cookbooks, including The Tropical Vegan Kitchen, The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen, Vegan Italiano (want!), and Supermarket Vegan. Be adventurous and do a world tour!

 

Scallion Pancakes

I adore these savory pancakes. Serve them with soups, stews, and salads to create a light supper, or use them as a bed for your favorite stir-fries and tofu dishes in lieu of rice or noodles.

Makes 4 pancakes; 8 to 12 appetizer servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup just-boiled water
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus additional, as needed
1 tablespoon toasted (dark) sesame oil
½ cup thinly sliced scallions, green parts only
2 tablespoon black or regular sesame seeds, toasted, if desired (optional)
1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garlic Chive–Ginger Dipping Sauce (below)

In a large bowl, combine the flour and table salt. Slowly add just-boiled water in a steady stream while stirring constantly in one direction with a wooden spoon (to keep bowl in place, wrap a kitchen towel around the bottom). When the flour absorbs the water and cools, knead the dough with floured fingers directly in the bowl into a slightly sticky ball. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest 30 minutes. Alternatively, combine the flour and table salt in a food processor fitted with the knife blade; with the motor running, slowly add just-boiled water and process until a slightly sticky ball forms. Transfer to a large bowl and knead briefly with floured fingers. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the canola oil and sesame oil. Set aside.

On a lightly work floured surface, roll out dough into a thin rectangle, about the size of a standard baking sheet. Brush on oil mixture; sprinkle evenly with the scallions, sesame seeds (if using), sea salt, and pepper. Starting at one long side, carefully roll up the dough to encase the filling. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Using your hands, roll and stretch each piece into a longer cylinder. Take one piece and twist in 3 places, keeping the filling in place; reshape into a cylinder. Coil each piece to form a spiral, pinching end in to keep in place. Press spiral with your palm to flatten it; using a rolling pin, roll out into a pancake 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Repeat process with remaining pieces.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. In a large nonstick skillet, heat ½ tablespoon of remaining canola oil slightly above medium heat. Working with 1 pancake at a time, place pancake in skillet and cook until golden, about 2 minutes each side. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with foil to keep warm. Repeat process with remaining canola oil and pancakes, adjusting the heat as needed.

Cut each pancake into 6 pieces. Serve immediately with Garlic Chive–Ginger Dipping Sauce on the side.

Per serving (per ½ pancake without sauce): Calories 176; Protein 3g; Total Fat 7g; Sat Fat 1g; Cholesterol 0mg; Carbohydrate 24g; Dietary Fiber 1g; Sodium 335mg

 
(More below the fold…)

Straight-Up-Thanksgiving Burgers & Hunan-Style Sweet Potato Fries

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Alternate title: The Obligatory Post-Thanksgiving Food Post.

 

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Since it was just the two of us – and an exhausted and otherwise occupied pair of cooks we were, at that – Shane and I didn’t go too overboard with this year’s food festivities. It was business as usual for most of the day, and then in the evening we made Thanksgiving dinner.

The main course: Straight-Up-Thanksgiving Burgers (recipe via evil junk food genius Joni Newman), topped with Hickory Smoked Tofurky slices and gravy and served on toasted onion rolls.

 

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OMG y’all, these burgers are AMAZING! They’re vaguely reminiscent of the fried mashed potato patties my mom used to make (in a futile attempt to get us kids to eat up the leftovers. In retrospect, I have no godly idea why we’d shun leftover mashed potatoes in the first place. Kids, who needs ’em.), only infinitely better. In addition to mashed potatoes, the burgers are mashup of stuffing, green beans, and French’s fried onions. SO NOMMY.

We halved the recipe, fried up two patties, and then set the leftover batter aside for later. I reckon we’ve enough left for three or four more burgers.

On the side: extra garlic & chive mashed potatoes and stuffing (my own recipes), as well as Hunan-Style Baked Sweet Potato French Fries with Chili Sauce (recipe via the upcoming The Chinese Vegan Kitchen, which I’m in the process of reviewing).

 

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The fries? Off the cuff! (Kids are still saying this. I’m not asking, I’m telling.) You bake ’em halfway and then fry them to finish. During the last few minutes of cooking, they’re coated in this delicious ketchup-soy sauce-chili paste concoction that’s finger-licking good. Though I must admit that I only used a quarter of the recommended chili paste, since I can’t handle hot foods very well. Shane thought they needed more chili paste, but he also thought we needed pie to wash down all those carbs. WHAT DOES HE KNOW?

I accidentally ate so much that I felt like I was going to die. I seriously had to swap my pants for a bathrobe. And we’re not talking jeans here – sweat pants! That’s how stuffed I was. Probably it didn’t help to snack on fried onions while I was making dinner.

My only regret? Aside from the chest pains, that is? I didn’t have any room left for soy chai ice cream. Homemade, yo!