Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Departure

I feel like a bit of a flake, but I'm afraid I have to announce my retirement from the challenge. My apologies, Raven and the Vegan Culinary Institute, it was a lovely idea but after 2 weeks I've come to the conclusion that this challenge just isn't, well challenging enough! I'd consider myself an intermediate to advanced amateur cook, and the recipes in La Dolce Vegan are just a wee bit tame for me. I feel, rather than being inspired, that I'm wasting my time and my money.

I do plan to take up anotyher similar challenge at some point in the future, though - this time I'm going to go way over my head and cook my way through the vegan and veganisable recipes in Terre a Terre's gourmet vegetarian cookbook!

There are about 52 by my rough count, which gives me one recipe a week. Easy, you may think, but some of these recipes are several pages long and involve up to six or seven sub-recipes! And some of them involve making pickles, home-made stock and so forth. I hope I can inspire a few others to join in with me.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Day Twelve: Cumin Rice

I made this a few days ago to bulk up the spinach salad for dinner. One of my favourite restaurants, Planet India in Brighton, serves cumin rice with everything and it's absolutely delicious, so a little piece of me was secretly hoping that this would be the recipe to replicate it. It's not (though part of that could have been to do with my using short grain brown rice instead of basati), but still rather tasty. Even better the next day too. I didn't have any parsley to top it with - I planned to fry up a little fenugreek (which I did have) and dollop it on top instead, but I forgot. NVM, as the kids say.

What has happened to my days?!

They have got all mixed up. I'm not sure where I skipped ahead, but I'll go and check and correct my errors to save confusion! Oops...

*Edit* No, no they haven't... It's our dear Raven who's losing her marbles, not me ;) That's a relief!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Days Ten and Eleven: Espresso Cake and Burrito Pie

A two-in-one blog/food bonanza!

Today was the end of a 6-day week at work for me, so I've had a lovely day off, getting up late, dashing around for last-minute ingredients (fortunately, for some reason my corner shop now sells silken tofu) and making a royal mess of my kitchen.

 For some reason, Mexican food incurs a maximum amount of mess and bowl usage. By the time I'd got this thing in the oven there was quite literally not a square inch of counter space left. It didn't help that the cake was sat on one of the hob rings (not lit, obviously), and my other half was busy frying tempura veg at the same time.

I've renamed this dish Mexican Lasagne due to its layered construction. For once I also ventured into vegan cheese territory, normally avoided like the plague, and in fact it worked rather nicely. It was even fed to a non-vegan with success. The whole thing was very delicious, despite some of my misgivings about baking avocado and pureeing salsa.

The tortillas fitted perfectly into the bottom of the dish, but the slight taper meant that by the time I got to the top the avo was poking out around the edge.

On to the cake.

Having had a slight advantage in being a day late in that I could read the other challengers' comments about this recipe first (is that cheating?!), I adjusted some of the ingredients a little to avoid over-heavy pitfalls. It was still on the solid side, but in a good hold-it-together way, rather than a lead-in-your-stomach way. I added a little baking powder, doubled the apple sauce (to which I added some Chinese brown sugar block in order to cut down on the white sugar), and increased the amount of flour by a touch to compensate. It was only as I was mixing the whole lot together that I realised this is a fat-free cake! My apple sauce wasn't smooth so there were lumps in the finished product, but that didn't matter. I did add a bit more soya milk too to get it to mix better, it looked far too gungy for my liking. Difficult to get into the tin - in my experience cake batter is normally a lot runnier. And as others have said, it didn't really taste of coffee, though I suspect it added a little je ne sais quoi.

By the time we'd finished our mains I was ready to glaze the cake, but alas hadn't read the instruction about putting it in the fridge for an hour to set! So instead I served it as warm chocolate sauce, yum. I halved the amount of margarine though because frankly it sounded a little disgusting. It wasn't. Though I'm not convinced that I'd ever use this again over a simple ganache.

Despite this, as you can see it all came together rather deliciously:

There was a little soya cream drizzled over too, but my picture of that step didn't come out so well. Alas though despite our guest quota there's still half a cake left in the fridge... (But not for long, I suspect)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

IOU one chocolate cake

Today I will mostly not be baking coffee and chocolate cakes with disgustingly decadent glazes. Mainly because I'm on a late shift at work, but also because I'm planning a luxurious lunch for my Sunday off tomorrow, involving burrito pies followed by the aforementioned cake. I may even make custard. In fact I'm drooling a little bit already just thinking about it.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Day Nine: Noodle Salad with Spicy Nut Dressing

Another one I didn't want to do! But before we get into that, here is a cookbook condition update, as requested by Raven:

It got splatted with nut dressing while I was mixing it! The first casualty was the banana blueberry muffin page, decimated within minutes - and the Dilip page, as I discovered yesterday, actually became stuck to its neighbour... I've never been known for my neatness.

Back to the cold noodle salad. This inspired me with a chilly, glutinous feeling akin to accidentally putting one's foot in a puddle.

(That's a dressing? Really?)
But this time, I really was quite glad I made it. Even though I lacked coriander (I knew I lacked it, but after work I just couldn't face traipsing round the city in search of the bizarrely elusive herb), and couldn't be arsed to toast and chop any nuts to garnish with, this salad was a genuinely new and pleasant experience. I will no longer grimace at the thought of cold noodle dishes.

My noodles were thai rice noodles, because that's what we had in the cupboard, peanut butter, and my pak choi/bok choi/sui choy or whatever you call it was in fact romaine lettuce (thank you, veg box).

 Not quite so pretty after the sauce had been mixed in:

As a side note, I watched Julie & Julia this evening, as I felt somehow I ought to visit the origins of this challenge, and was pleased to discover Meryl Streep is capable of delivering a performance without her customary air of self-congratulatory Bono-style smugness. Not exactly gourmet film-making, if you'll pardon the expression, but entertaining enough.

Day Eight, a day late (hehee): Baby spinach and apple salad

The way I feel about salad recipes can be summed up in a single, effortless syllable: meh.

It's not that I don't like salads, a good one can be a joy and mid summer I often crave mountains of raw, crunchy, delicious green stuff. It's just that 1. I find it a faff to make them (all that chopping, grating, washing, bleh), and 2. the best ones are made off the cuff! There are a lot of ff's in this paragraph. So ordinarily this recipe would have been quickly skimmed past in search of bolder and more innovative, toothsome concoctions.

I'd like to say I'd been proved wrong and how glad I am that I was forced into making it, but I can only use mediocre words to describe the end result. Even though I love sweet things in salads, I just didn't really feel like this was a mixture worthy of a slot in a cookbook, and probably could have come up with something a bit more enticing without Sarah's aid, this time. It wasn't bad, I didn't dislike it, but it was 'nice', rather than fabulous.

It probably didn't help that it wasn't exactly a bright summer's day either - rather more Manchestery than is ideal for eating cold food. The north western gloom puts one more in mind of the solace of chips, gravy, puddings and custard...

Oops, I nearly forgot the picture!

(As you can see, I forewent the expense of pine nuts in favour of almonds.)

I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!

Unfortunately I don't have an enormous fob watch to check, but I do know I'm late with yesterday's blog post! Double whammy this evening, then.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Day Seven: A Dilip of some kind

The first week is complete and I'm already feeling the pressure! Mainly because of lots of other mean and stressful things happening in my life at the moment (mainly to do with teeth and houses), but I am worried I'm going to struggle when I start having to move house, visit places, etc.

Back to today's recipe: Blueberry Dilip.

What the hell is a dilip? Dilip, phillip, pillock... All these words were used by my partner to describe it as he filmed me baking the muffins the other day (boy + new toy = silly videos). I don't know if it is a 'thing', like Apple Charlotte or Eton Mess over here, but I'd never heard of it anyway. No blueberries here - I managed for the muffins, but 4 cups?! No, sorry, I draw the line there. And Raven, Challenge Master Extraordinaire over at the Vegan Culinary Institute, said substitution was A-ok. So I used whatever soft fruit looked good and reduced in price. Which turned out to be a mixture of cherries and greengages.

Interesting, and yummy.
I'm pretty sure I didn't have quite enough fruit though, because it was immediately enveloped by the rapidly expanding dilip batter when I poured it in. I managed to leave the batter on top of the hob, ie on top of the preheated oven, while I prepped the fruit, so by the time I got back to it it was bubbling away already! Oops.
The mixture of sweet cherries with tangy greengages and their slightly bitter skins was actually really good, although I was a bit startled by the bitter bits at first. I would have liked to serve it with ice cream, but we don't have a freezer! So soya cream it was. The dilip was served to a non-vegan, after the portobello pot pie, and the entire ensemble met with grand approval. Hurrah.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Day Six: Simple Leek and Potato Soup

Leek and potato soup is one of my all time favourite things. It was probably one of the first dishes I learned to cook for myself, and subsequently I haven't looked at a recipe to make it in more than 10 years.

But I did! I was good and followed the instructions. Except that I used the whole leek, not just the white and pale green parts (really Sarah, so wasteful!) - and I couldn't resist adding my customary pinch of nutmeg at the end. I confess I actually made this about a week ago, because we had all the ingredients in the house and I'd broken a tooth (eating muesli!) earlier that day, and it seemed like a good time to make soup.

The 'croutons' are actually cubes of 5 spice tofu, but it turns out that 5 spice tofu does not make particularly good friends with leek and potato soup, so I fished mine out and just ate them on the bread.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Day Five: Peanut Butter Fudgie Mounds

I've always hated peanut butter, and neither am I fond of peanuts themselves, so until a a year or two ago these little offerings would never have passed my lips! Since becoming vegan, however, I've discovered that as an ingredient, especially in sweet things, I'm actually rather partial to the butter. I still can't face it alone though - ditto tahini.

These things were extremely difficult to photograph without appearing obscene - at a distance they resemble owl droppings, and close up they look like surplus disembowelling effects from a bad B movie. Which amount to rather the same thing now that I think about it.

Despite these cosmetic drawbacks, they made a very successful appearance at an impromptu dinner at a neighbour's this evening, where almost the entire trayful was consumed with delight all round.

Again I used palm sugar instead of granulated, because I simply couldn't face using an entire cup of sugar in a recipe - I could feel my dentine shrivelling up in anticipation just looking at the ingredients list. It has a caramelly flavour (palm sugar, not dentine), so it worked pretty well. Unfortunately I discovered, to my horror at 6.30 this evening, that we were out of peanut butter, so I had to buy inferior stuff from the corner shop (containing sugar and palm oil, yuck) in order to make the recipe in time. We also didn't have enough porridge oats, so about 1/3 of the oat quota was jumbo, meaning the mixture didn't stick together quite so efficiently. No detriment to the flavour, however.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Day Four (aren't we getting along!): Gerry's Artichoke and Basil Pasta

Ok, it's not difficult to make something delicious from artichokes, basil, tomatoes and pine nuts, is it. So as tasty as this dish was, I don't really consider it a great culinary achievement! Alas not very photogenic either, sorry about that. I used really small pasta because that's what we had in the cupboard, and it worked rather nicely. The sauce:pasta ratio was a little meaner than intended as I cooked far more than 2 portions. Well, far more than Sarah's idea of 2 portions. I'm rapidly coming to realise that her '2 large portions' is significantly smaller than my 2 large portions... If I made this again I think I might give it a bit more of a twist - some tamari, a drop of tabasco and maybe even a squeeze of lemon juice.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Day Three: Portobello Pot Pie and All Purpose Crust

MMMMMMMMM...... Pie! Us Brits love a good pie. And this was a good pie. I had to resist adding a pastry case though, it's not quite right over here to just have a lid and no sides!

What I also found very difficult to resist was ignoring the pastry instructions altogether and just going my own way (it's one of those things I make a lot and rarely follow a recipe for). I made one change, which was to use olive oil instead of margarine, but followed the rest to the letter. Except that I found I had to double the amount of soya milk to get the dough to come together. I've got to say though, Ms Kramer, that I'm afraid your recipe doesn't produce quite such good results as my usual method - a combination born of Nigella Lawson and Isa Chandra Moskovitz. It was perfectly respectable, not soggy or flabby, but a tiny bit more on the chewy side than the flaky side for my taste.

The filling was really excellent though, I made no changes to it at all and it came out delicious. I luuurve mushrooms and so rarely take the opportunity to go all out with some really big meaty ones. They can be hard to find and alas I had to forsake the local shops this time and go to the hated supermarket to get my portobellos. I bought double the amount though, while I was there (in for a penny and all that), stuffed mushrooms coming up next!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Day Two: No Salt Shaker

Today's challenge recipe is very simple, and here it is, pictorially, for your viewing pleasure:

I had a lot of trouble getting these pics to line up like this, horizontally instead of vertically, and in the end I resorted to grafting them in GIMP before uploading the whole thing as one image! And even then I couldn't get around blogger's stupid automatic image borders *tooth grind*. My intention was to have the ingredients = the seasoning, but clearly I was far too frazzled by the whole operation to realise they were the wrong way around until I (feeling rather pleased with my handiwork) hit save for the final time. D'oh. Still, as a logical certainty it works either way around! Now, what shall I sprinkle it on first...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

La Dolce Vegan Challenge, Day 1: Wolffie's Banana Blueberry Muffins

Well boys and girls, here we are on Day One of the Vegan Culinary Institute's 'La Dolce Vegan Challenge' - isn't it exciting?!

I decided, in honour of the first recipe, to splash out and buy the blueberries, for an authentic start. Well, sort of. I omitted the granulated sugar in favour of palm sugar (non-refined, more subtle flavour - a bit caramelly), to make the muffins a bit more breakfast-friendly. Maple syrup would probably have worked nicely too as a substitute, but it's about 10 times the price. Instead of adding it to the dry ingredients, I just put it on with the wet instead - it's not really wet, but it is sticky!

Strangely, having consumed many sweets made with palm sugar (t'other half uses it a lot, especially in his favourite black rice pudding), this was the first time I've ever actually cooked with it. It comes in little cakes, which are rather solid. My blender sounded like it was trying to grind a golf ball. In hindsight I should have dissolved it first in some warmed soya milk - in fact I think that was my original plan, but after a long day at work (12-8, got in at 8.30, ate some dinner, sat for 5 mins, got up and made muffins) my gameplan dribbled out of my ears somewhere on the bike ride home.

For some reason my muffins rose spectacularly, like rocky outcrops with exploded blueberry rivers. More scone-y than muffin-y in shape. Flavour and texture-wise they were very good, though I under-palm sugared them a bit, and IMHO they could stand a bit more banana. But then I always think things could stand more banana. I also had to add a bit more soya milk, because the mixture became so solid once I started combining the wet and dry ingredients that I was literally unable to mix them together. As a result the batter probably got rather more glutinous and stretchy than it ought, but they certainly weren't tough.

Tomorrow: No Salt Shaker - but on what... (Actually, I'm having some people round for dinner tomorrow, so I'm going to cheat a bit and get a few more of this week's recipes ticked off the list while I'm at it! For continuity, though, I will blog about each recipe on the proper day.)