Vegan

Fare en Blanc for a Bridal Shower Soirée, Swor-ahh

ContextTwo summers ago, this lovely lady reminded about the cold alabaster soup the Andalusians call "ajo blanco" (white garlic), and I immediately took her cue and whipped together my own creamy version of "white gazpacho." When I visited Spain's coastal towns ajo blanco was a godsend since it's one of southern Spain's few staples without the revered jamón -- nor chicken stock, or, well, anything that would make it prohibitive for a vegetarian.

Though I only made the tangy almond and garlic chilled soup that one time (there so many dishes to try!), it left such a fantastic taste impression on my mum that when we discussed the menu for my sister's SURPRISE bridal shower, my mother said, "Oh! That soup! That delicious white soup that you made that one time...." 

And so it was....one aspect of the surprise Bridal Soirée's menu was decided -- and I began soaking an entire 3 pounds of almonds in mason jars in prep for blending and gazpacho-making. 

The white gazpacho I ate spiked with salty sea breezes in the shadow of ancient stucco buildings was more rustic than this version -- the cafes in Spain served something less finely blended and not exactly pure white (I'm guessing due to bread crusts, as it had that look about it). But I completely recommend this fussier update  -- you'll end up with a beautiful white, rich and loamy gazpacho, laced with lemon and hints of garlic.   

The Stats:

Started soaking the almonds on Wednesday for the Saturday shower-- I was sans the ultra-fancy blender with serious brawn I used two summers ago, and wanted the almonds nice and soft... not sure if the extra soaking time helped.

Started blending almonds at approximately noon on Saturday

Finished blending soup & set it to chill in the refrigerator at approximately, oh, I don't know, 2:30pm? (Though many other things were happening...)

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 stars on the Best-Things-You've-Put-to-Your-Lips scale

Improvements:  Use a Blendtec or other industrial-strength blender to get this soup to a yogurt-like smooth consistency OR use a strainer -- we didn't have time or patience for a strainer in the frenzy of our preparations -- and while we managed to nearly obliterate all the almond granules and get this pretty-darn-close to sediment-free smooth, it wasn't *silk* -- and I'm a Perfectionist with a definite capital P in my culinary/entertaining endeavors.

Bridal White Andalusian Gazpacho (Ajo Blanco)

This elegant gazpacho is made entirely from ingredients the Spanish consistently  (enviably!!) have in abundance: almonds, crusts of bread, olive oil, lemon juice & garlic -- creating a melange where the individual components work better together than you can possibly imagine.

The recipe I pseudo-followed is here  - but this is a concoction born to be improvised. Remember! Andalusians are just using up what they had on hand!

Per Spanish tradition, I studded the soup with halved green grapes, which might sound weird, but *trust* --  it cuts through all that garlicky creaminess (too much really can dull the palate) -- the burst of sweet-tartness from the grapes is refreshing and reawakens your tongue, since in the midst of the spoonfuls of ecstasy, there's a high chance it will forget it ought to be in heaven. 

For the shower, in theory, I was going to make 1.5 times this recipe from Tartine to serve about 30-35 people (in charming little clear shot glasses). But since the original recipe calls for 2 lb.s of raw almonds, and I only used 2 lb.s of the 3 lb.s of almonds I soaked, I clearly strayed from the recipe... but it was still divine. 

Soup

2 lbs raw almonds softened (soaked or blanched) & sans skins** (2 mason jars full!)

approx 10 inches of a Pugliese loaf (sliced into 1/2 inches & dried out in the oven)

1 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup Champagne vinegar

2 - 2.5 cups flavorful golden-green olive oil

4 cloves of garlic

10-12 cups of water

approx 3/4 tsp salt (to taste) 

1.5 cups green grapes halved/quartered (depending on their size)  -- you'll stir these into the blended gazpacho, right before you put into the fridge to chill  

Garnish

35 grapes halved

Salsa-Like Garnish

1 cucumber diced

1/2 cup grape tomatoes diced

1 T Champagne vinegar

1 T olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

few dashes of black pepper

1. As I said before, I knew blending the almonds into the consistency of a whipped cloud with my Kitchenaid blender might give me some trouble, so I set to soaking them 3 days ahead of time in hope that this might help. I'm not sure it did. Well, I'm sure it helped some, but certainly isn't necessary. Soak overnight or boil for a few minutes and your almonds should be just prime soft-enough for blending.

**2. If you soak your almonds overnight, and they have skins, you'll still want to blanch them in boiling water for a minute so that you can easily peel the skins off (which won't take much time at all), otherwise, the peeling part will be a *chore.*

3. Blend almonds and garlic together until as smooth and pasty as possible -- you can break this up into batches, whatever capacity you think your blender can manage -- we did three or four batches

4. Given whatever size batch you are working with, add the appropriate portion bread and cold water to your almond mixture and blend till smooth.  

5. Add the batch's portion of olive oil -- blend till smooth. (Basically, just loads of adding and blending!) 

6. Add the batch's portion of vinegar --  blend till smooth.

7. When all of your almonds, bread, water, olive oil & vinegar have been thoroughly blended and set aside in a large bowl, stir in the lemon juice and salt into the whole lot, and taste to make any desired flavor/salt adjustments (you may want more lemon for a brighter flavour, or more vinegar or salt for more savory tang).

8. Stir in your halved grapes and chill for a few hours -- at least 3.

9. Make your garnish by mixing the diced cucumbers, tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper together. Then halve your grapes if you haven't already.

10. When ready to serve, put the gazpacho into cups, bowls or shot glasses (as you will) and top with salsa garnish & a half a grape. Voilà! So white and pretty with that pop of color.

11. Be ready to answer the question "What is this wonderful stuff?" 

 

Before the Barb is Over

Context: It's the last leg of rhubarb season here and the plants in my backyard have reached this bamboo + leafy elephant ear stage where it looks like they've mutated into something prehistoric (last year, I actually thought they *had* mutated and, in a half-panic, hacked away at them, only to learn, if you want your harvest to double the next year, you should not do that).

The overgrowth is because I can't use up those stalks fast enough. The charms of raw rhubarb, unless you crave puckery earthy SweetTart celery, are pretty limited. Most people in the US only lust after its pleasures in a few forms: pie, tarts, um... pie again.  

Alas, I only have so much rhubarb bakery-making (not to mention, bakery-eating) ambition. It's also not an easy-to-give-away crop -- you've got to find people who know what to do with it -- who regularly bake and *will* do something with it. 

If you happen to be such a person (*do* call if you live near me & want some rhubarb!) this is the recipe you need to know about -- *please* -- don't pass it over so you can make yet another straw-barb pie. No... this is a flirtatious little sheet cake that inaugurates each and every rhubarb season in my family, and also how I wanted to end it this year. I'm fairly certain this particular recipe came from my grandmother in Alaska, which is also where the starter shoots for the rhubarb plants in our garden came from -- and *her* plants came from shoots she took from a family homestead in Wisconsin. See.. with wayfarers, you've got to carry your roots with you...

The Stats: 

Started: put on Joshua James and turned oven knob to 350F (turning on Joshua James didn't sound right) : 8:35pm

Finished: pinched a walnut off the still-warm pan of cake and remembered to look at time: 10:18pm... Best guess of actual finish time, which also includes going outside & harvesting rhubarb: 9:45pm

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars on the Recipes-I-Will-Pass-On-to-Progeny Scale

Improvements:  None (unless you want to un-veganize it!)

Alaskan Grandmother's Heirloom Rhubarb Cake (the Vegan Version)

You see rhubarb and you see cake and you think you've got it all figured out. With the cinnamon and nut topping I'm sure you're imagining basic coffee cake (yawn) sensibilities. But people who "don't like" rhubarb like this cake. People who don't really know what rhubarb is like this cake. *You* will like this cake. It's tart and airy and brown sugary while mysteriously not being brown sugary. It's a head-scratching recipe in how basic it is -- I almost never think it's going to be as good as it magically is when I take my first bite... and then I remember for the umpteenth time that it's almost crossing-over-to-the-other-side amazing.

I halved my recipe (it's only me here now -- and you can easily, almost scarily easily, eat half a pan of this stuff before you even realize it), so I've posted the halved version that I actually made first, and posted the original "full size" recipe underneath.

Half Rhubarb Cake Recipe (for 8 x 8 pan)

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup coconut oil (soft/room temp) 

1/2 cup sour almond/soy milk (I measured out approx 1.5 T of a lemon juice + apple cider vinegar combination into a glass measuring cup, then topped it off to the red 1/2 cup line with almond milk, stirred & let set... don't worry if it separates!)

1/2 tsp of chia seeds, measured out into a coffee grinder and blended into a powder, then whisked into 1.5 T warm water -- set aside so the mixture has time to gel

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup flour (I used approx 1/3 cup whole wheat flour, & 2/3 cup all purpose) 

2.5 - 3 cups chopped rhubarb (sliced into 1/2in - 3/4in pieces) {the more the better!!!}** {Red rhubarb is prettier, green rhubarb is more tart and flavorful -- use both, if you can}

Cream sugar with coconut oil. Add in chia seed/water mixture and vanilla and mix till smooth. Add dry ingredients alternatively with the sour almond/soy milk -- mixing till smooth each time.

**Mix in rhubarb last -- the more the better is *so* true -- this go-round I used probably *nearly* but not-quite 4 cups, which, if you use that much, given what it appears is a busting-at-the-seams fruit-to-batter ratio, you're going to think I'm completely nuts and pulled the wool over your eyes with this recipe. "No good can come of this!!" You will utter. "She can't possibly know what she's talking about!!" -- but trust... though it might look like you've got nothing but a bowl of rhubarb cuttings barely coated in a sticky bit of batter - it's all going to sort itself out in the oven, as those chunky slicings of fruit are going to melt like red & green ice cubes.

Of course, you don't *have* to use that much -- stick with what's specified and it will just be more cakey than what you might say nudges into buckle territory -- and honestly, it's all good.

Spread batter into coconut-oil greased 8 x 8 pan.

Top with chopped walnuts, a dusting of white sugar & cinnamon. 

Bake at 350F for about 35-40 minutes -- till nice and golden, and baked through, you know, when that trusty toothpick coming out clean!  

 Dobrou chut! x  

 

Full-Sized Rhubarb Cake Recipe (for 13 x 9 x 2 pan)

1.5 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup coconut oil

1 cup sour almond/soy milk (measure out 3 T of lemon juice/apple cider vinegar -- I usually use 1 T of each -- into a 1 cup measuring cup, then top off with almond or soy milk, and let rest)

1 tsp soda

5 - 6 cups chopped rhubarb (approx 1/2 - 3/4in pieces) -- the more the better!! 

1 tsp of ground chia seed whisked into 3 T warm water (let set for a few minutes to really let it gel)

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups flour

Cream sugar with coconut oil. Add in chia seed/water mixture and vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternatively with the sour almond/soy milk. Mix in rhubarb last. Spread batter into greased 13 x 9 x 2 in pan. 

Top with: 

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts) 

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes

 

You Wanna Be Americano Cuban 'Sup

Context: In the midst of baking a sweet potato for another trial version of potential wedding cake, the earthy-caramelized smell made me realize I wanted a sweet potato for dinner! So.... I rinsed off a couple more and threw them into the oven (baking at 350F) and an hour or so later began putting a Cuban-esque supper together.

Whilst cooking, I listened to every version of Tu Vuo Fa L'americano youtube has to offer, which is *entirely* the fault of the rendition I saw on Made in Chelsea (my one oh-so-sheepish reality TV pleasure, which I'm convinced I'd care not a smite about were I still *in* London, but as it is.... now it's my sugary escape).

The Stats:

Started heating up oil for plantains: 7:30pm 

Finished cooking/sat down to eat: 8:10pm

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars (on the would-I-make-for-company? scale)

Improvements: Red onion for the mango salsa. Perhaps something more interesting added to the black beans -- cumin? More salt. A bit of cilantro?

Americano Cuban Supper (Vegan)

consisting of:

Plantains

Black Beans

Mango Salsa

Sweet Potato

Tofu

Rice

Green Salad

Plantains:

Heated a drizzle (1 tsp?) of olive oil in a nonstick pan on med-high heat.

Sliced one very ripe ('twas black) plantain into 1/4 inch slices.

By the time I was done cutting the plantain, the oil was swishing around the pan nicely, so I arranged the slices atop the oil and gave them all a dusting of salt.

Basically, just waited and checked till they were nicely brown on one side and then flipped... adding another dusting of salt, then the tiniest sprinkling of cayenne pepper to the already-crispy face-up side.

Meanwhile... as that was cooking... 

Mango Salsa:

1 very ripe mango -- diced it into quarter inch cubes and put into a small glass bowl

then added:

juice of 3/4 of a lime (what I had in the fridge after using a slice to spike some Perrier!)

3 dashes fiery hot sauce (I use Marie Sharpe's from Belize)

1 T very finely sliced white onion

1 T chopped cilantro

1-2 dashes cumin

1/4 tsp sea salt

Voila! Then sat it aside to marinate (people will declare this the best part of your meal)

At this point, the plantains were done. I turned the stove down to low-med heat, just to keep them warm.

Now onto...

Black Beans:

Uber simple. This is hardly a recipe. I sliced up an 1/4 cup white onion (this onion was getting some multi-purpose use!) and threw the slices into a small saute pan with a little bit of oil.

Opened and rinsed a can of organic black beans.

When I smelled the onion cooking, I added a dash of salt, then emptied the can of beans into the pan for them to warm through. (You may want to add some more salt.)

Tofu:

Okay... Getting tofu right *takes time* -- and there are loads of variations, which produce different results. In this case, I wanted soft-ish textured tofu with a nice golden crispy salty crust on the outside. 

First, I warmed a drizzle of oil in a pan on medium-high heat.

As that warmed, I opened a block of very firm tofu and sliced about a quarter of it out of the container. Then sliced that creamy slab that was probably 4in x 2in x 2in into approximately 1/2 inch cubes. 

At the point when the oil was quite hot and sliding about, I gently placed the cubes into the pan. Now this is the important part that takes patience -- once the tofu is sitting in the pan, in the oil, I DON'T move them! They will be sitting there and I always wonder what is going on with them underneath, but I know I must just trust that something good is happening and wait. This waiting can seriously, can take, oh, I don't know, at least 7 minutes before that lovely little centimeter of golden crust is formed. So I started cleaning up and doing dishes while waiting (having moments during the cooking process for clean up is the bonus of things doing their own thing in their own time without your assistance!).

In my mind, overcooked, slightly burnt tofu is preferable to the squidgy undercooked tofu that seems to be, oh, I don't know, ubiquitously and slightly befuddlingly EVERYWHERE. (Why? Especially at good restaurants? Why?) So I probably waited 7 minutes, and if, when I turned it over to look, that crust hadn't formed, I let them be and waited another couple minutes. I sprinkled salt on top of the still-jiggling whiteness, as well as any that I'd turned since they were golden-y, and waited. When the crust had thoroughly formed and I flipped the tofu, I again, WAITED (though the other side never seems to take as long) for the crust to form on the other side... sprinkling some salt into the pan along the way.

Once the two sides of the tofu were crispy, I consider that the bare minimum -- and sometimes I will serve that way, but today I turned the tofu so that *each side* spent a bit of time in contact with the hot pan. You can do the two-sided golden sandwich-board tofu, but I prefer nice all-around crispy cubes... But that's me...

Anyway! At this point... dinner was basically done. I served the baked sweet potato with the plantains, tofu, black beans, as well as with some rice (I almost always have cooked rice on-hand thanks to an Ayurveda mung bean & rice balancing/grounding cleanse I did that made me *addicted* to the stuff... ) and green salad... oh, and of course the mango salsa as well as the embarrassingly-large jar of Pace picante sauce from Costco I have on hand. 

When I present people with a load of different dishes like this, they invariably ask me "So.... how are we supposed to eat this?" And I always say, "However you want!"

Mix, match... have fun.....! Or if you wanna be more Americano... tell them..... Whiskey! Soda! Rock & roll!

Dobrou chut! x

Not-Gonna-Be-in-the-Wedding Chai Cake

Context: Lazy Sunday dedicated almost entirely to activity surrounding my sister's upcoming nuptials. Including, the ordering of several SUNO brand dresses (the most exciting fashion coming out of NYC according to my sis -- you may have seen it sported recently on a weeping-rehab-confessing Lilo on David Letterman) that may just suit as a bridesmaid/Maid of Honor dress... Kasey does *NOT* have colours for her wedding (how passé, how gauche, how completely matchy-matchy pedestrian *ordinary* I do believe is her take on the matter) but she most certainly DOES have a bare minimum level of "cool" fashion-forward sophistication expectation of her bridesmaid, namely: moi.

Anyway! Since we're making the cake for the wedding, this chai version was a tester trial run. It did not pass the test. Did not rise high enough. Wasn't intriguing and over-the-top tasty enough.

The Stats:

Started grinding chia seeds: Beginning of the third Radio West episode I tried listening to... the first two bored me within minutes, but this one, I actually stuck with -- an interesting talk with a now post-Mormon, bourbon "partaking" (his words, not mine)  Joshua James. He seems like a cool kid. He checked with the city of American Fork to see if his particular address could be its own incorporated little town -- so his address would read "Willamette Mountain" in lieu of American Fork. I would enjoy doing that! Declaring my own little tract of land to be a world/name/entire city of its own, with a representative name of my choosing! 

Finished taking cake out of oven: Probably within the last 10 minutes or so of said Joshua James Radio West interview (so, not quite an hour from start to finish)

Rating: 2 stars out of 5 stars (on *any* scale)

Improvements: Less Ground up chai tea... maybe not even any ground up chai tea --perhaps just steep the tea bags in the milk, which is what I believe the original recipe states, but the blogger I was referencing blended up the chai instead... which I had my doubts about, but she really praised the flavour she got as a result.

Not-Wedding-Worthy Vegan Chai Cake

This is a quartered and veganized version of Alisa Huntsman's Chai Cake from her Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes cookbook.  Some recipes veganize well, and I'm not sure this one did. All said, as it was, it came out tasting rather strongly spiced, but very one-note at the same time. There wasn't a lot of nuance. The texture was okay, but just okay. Moist, but not springy/fluffy/ooh-la-la. It reminded me more of a spice loaf than a layer cake.

 I quartered it because I have a lot of cake to test! So don't laugh at my measurements!

"Egg" Mixture:  Ground 2 tsp of chia seeds in coffee grinder and mixed with 6 T of warm water -- set aside

Whisked together in large bowl:

1/2 cup + 3 T cake flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp + 1/8 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp cardamom

1/8 tsp salt

3/4 T ground double spiced chai (I ripped open 3 Stash Double Chai tea bags, poured the contents into my coffee grinder, and then measured out well over 1/2 T into the batter -- but I'd say definitely use no more than 1/2 T.... and maybe just steep the tea bags in the soy milk rather than actually using the ground up tea -- see "improvements" note above)

Then blended in:

1/4 cup Earth Balance

1/4 cup soy milk

Mixed with a hand mixture, medium speed till thoroughly silky and combined

Then, to the sitting egg mixture, added:

1 T + 1/4 T + 1/4 tsp soy milk

1/2 tsp vanilla

blended on high speed for 45 seconds or so

Add the egg mixture to the large bowl of flour/milk/butter in THREE parts, till just mixed/incorporated each time.

Poured into coconut buttered/floured 8-inch cake pan and baked for 15 minutes at 350F -- rotating the pan after 7 minutes, and pulled out when the toothpick inserted in middle came out clean. This cake did not rise a ton!