Showing posts with label vegan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vegan. Show all posts

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Book Review: Deliciously Holistic by Shelly Alexander

 I'm closing in on the 3 week mark before the new baby arrives.  In spite of my enormous belly, I still feel like a long-legged stork will in fact drop the little parcel wrapped in pink or blue cloth on the doorstep and be gone in the blink of an eye.  But I know that isn't the case, especially with the lack of appetite I've had lately.

Even though I haven't felt a whole lot like eating - or at least eating very much at one sitting - I have felt like reading about food.  It's probably the first time in years that I've been current on my feedly blog stream.  I have a record number of books on my shelves from the library, and I even had the time to read a book for review from cover to cover:  Deliciously Holistic by Shelly Alexander, CHFS.  What attracted me to this book was the description, "There is a simple, easy-to-follow recipe for eating healthy, delicious foods that can also lead you on an enjoyable path to vibrant health."

I was particularly interested in this claim because I read a lot on whole food diets and I know first hand just how confusing all of it can be.  Keeping all of the linguistics of whole food eating can be daunting as well, and just where should a person new to the idea of a whole foods diet start?  I found this book to be a very good resource for someone just starting out in holistic eating.  It gives a broad overview of healthy diet without subscribing to just one diet trend (vegan, paleo, primal, vegetarian), but includes simple, tasty recipes for those who might already follow any one of those diets.  It also confirms a lot of information I've already gained from reading about and following a mostly holistic diet for some time.

It's been a good 3 years since I ditched my microwave, gave up boxed cereal, and in general started taking more hands on control of my own diet.  That also directly translated to the diets of my immediate family so much as I can help it.  I try not to be militant, but also aim for consistency.  Most food in my house is slow food.  I take genuine pleasure in adding new kitchen processes that are (hopefully) healthier than packaged or more convenient counterparts.  I've become a real bread baker, all my beans are soaked and cooked from dried, and I try to focus on purchasing raw materials and then making the most of them as the mood strikes me.

This means thinking ahead a good part of the time, and in the cases where I haven't thought ahead, it causes me to be creative in coming up with nutritious meals for my family.  It definitely helps to be consistently reading real food blogs and cookbooks, and like I said, Deliciously Holistic would be an excellent first step resource for someone completely new to the lifestyle changes that whole food diets require.

orange pumpkin seed milk 

Another thing I appreciated about the book were the simple recipes.  So often, real food recipes are overwhelming, especially to those new to eating that type of diet, and these recipes are simple enough for those who are even new to cooking from scratch.  And this isn't just a vegan or vegetarian book, either.  There are plenty of recipes for fish and meat entrees that

For those unfamiliar with making homemade, alternative milks, there are a number of creative non-dairy drinks, plenty of flavor combinations I've never seen or considered before like Carrot Pecan Milk or Nectarine Walnut Milk.  The recipe for Orange Ginger Pumpkin Seed Milk sounded particularly good to me, and it surely did not disappoint.  It was a refreshing change from ordinary homemade almond or coconut milks, and had a truly nourishing taste to it that just felt comforting to drink. 

orange pumpkin seed milk

As Alexander explains, nuts and seeds are usually best soaked or sprouted because it breaks down their enzyme inhibitors.  I've gotten rather used to soaking and sprouting, and a bit of planning ahead doesn't bother me at all.  For this recipe, you'll need to soak the pumpkin seeds in filtered or spring water for 4-6 hours before continuing.  Be sure to use an organic orange for the juice and zest, non-organic are often waxed and artificially colored.

Orange Ginger Pumpkin Seed Milk  (Shelly Alexander, CHFS - Deliciously Holistic)

yields about 4 1/2 cups
  • 3 cups filtered or spring water
  • 1 1/4 c. soaked pumpkin seeds
  •  3 T. coconut sugar, 3 pitted dates, or stevia to taste (I used dates)
  • 1 t. fresh peeled ginger, grated 
  • 1/4 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 t. grated orange zest
Blend all the ingredients in a blender until creamy and smooth.  Taste and add more sweetener to your preference.  Strain with a nut milk bag, or other fine strainer (a homemade bag made of unbleached muslin will also work just fine).  Milk will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator.

 orange pumpkin seed milk

I have a high-speed Vitamix blender, so I don't have to be too careful about chopping up things like ginger and dates, but you may have to take more care with a regular blender.  The finished drink is the palest green and has a very unique flavor.  It's definitely a recipe I'll make again, and I'm excited to try many of the other alternative milks in Deliciously Holistic this summer as well!

orange pumpkin seed milk

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Deliciously Holistic for review.  As always, all opinions are my own!  You can find a copy of the book for sale on Amazon, or through Shelly's website where you can also find more recipes and whole food information.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

(Raw) Vegan Fig Bars.

There is a gentle hum in my house. For a whole week now. I hear it if the radio happens to be off, and when if I'm drifting off to sleep. It's the relaxing white noise belonging to my dehydrator, that in my mid-century home I can hear perfectly well even though I've given it a proper set-up and privacy in the basement.

On the heels of recent wheat sprouting, I rented a new raw food cookbook from the library: Living Raw Food by Sarma Melngailis. I read the whole thing nearly immediately, and even though I am not raw or vegan (or both simultaneously), I took particular delight in the array of foods presented, and the quality of the desserts and snacks and their lack of refined sugars.

Raw "cooking" is just plain fascinating to me. Not only does it require a few technical, specialty appliances that I actually now have, it is thought provoked, true slow food that begs days of waiting, monitoring, peeking and tasting. It is all about the end products that taste better than you hoped for, and are worth each moment of anticipation - and it's pure excitement in the knowing that what came from the long wait is probably at least a little healthier for you in the long run.

raw vegan fig bars

Part of my obsessing with grain-spouting lately is the Kiddo. I know I'm a food person and concentrate on such things, but I worry about his diet. He likes fruit, but not many vegetables, he prefers all starchy carbohydrates and snacky-type foods to proper meals if given the choice, and sometimes stubbornly just refuses to eat dinner if it contains something he doesn't like. I guess I figure that I have time in this bleak part of the year to do such things as sprout wheat, dehydrate it, and then grind it fresh before using it. It tastes better, and the Kiddo's digestion is probably helped out a little bit too.

When I came to the fig bars in Sarma's book, I immediately set out to sprout some oats - not realizing that most oats are not sproutable since the outer hulls are usually removed. I was attempting it on co-op bulk bin oats groats, so I gave them three days of monitoring and rinsing before I gave in and just dehydrated them. (Sarma instructs to just soak them for 6 hours or longer at room temp before dehydrating them and grinding them into flour.) That turned these little Fig Newton-type bars into a 5 or 6 day process from start to finish.

These beauty bars are sweetened only with date and fig pastes easily made by soaking dried fruit in water to fatten it up, and then sending it on a trip through the food pro with enough soaking water to approximate jam consistency. I also learned something about figs, that they are essentially inverted flowers and they have the highest mineral content of all common fruits. According to Sarma, they are high in potassium, calcium and iron, as well as having a good amount of vitamin C and fiber. More good reasons to hope my Kiddo liked them!


Now, when it came time to assemble these, I won't lie that my kitchen did not erupt into a mess of godzillic proportion, but that definitely would not stop me from making these again. I did half the recipe too since I was unsure of what I was doing and if it would be appreciated - but next time I'll make the full amount. These are dried out after all, and when storing them air-tight, I think they'll have a fairly long shelf life.

Sarma also calls for an ingredient I've never used before, maple syrup powder. I think it would be possible to dehydrate maple syrup and arrive at a usable result, but frankly I didn't have time for all of that. (Maple syrup is arguably not raw either if you are keeping track.) I substituted it with a little actual maple syrup, and everything turned out just fine. This was the first dehydrated adventure of such proportion for me, and I just went ahead and substituted as if I've been raw "baking" forever. It worked for me.

raw vegan fig bars.

Before I started these, I read through quite a few message boards concerning raw vegan desserts and discovered that most people feel that these types of desserts are on the sweet side. I took that into consideration when reducing the amounts of dried fruit that I used for the filling. The amounts listed are for 32 bars, double everything for 64 bars. Have all of the ingredients ready before beginning. Soaking the dried fruits and turning them into pastes can be done a day or two in advance, and the oats soaked, dehydrated and turned to flour at your convenience. Trust me, all the advance work is worth it.

Raw Vegan Fig Bars (adapted from Sarma Melngailis)
  • 4 c. oat flour (see note below)
  • 1/2 t. RealSalt (fine salt)
  • 1/4 c. coconut oil, warmed to soften
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 3/4 c. date paste (see note below), divided
  • 2 c. fig paste (see note below) (use the recommended 3 c. of fig paste for figgier bars)

To make the dough, mix oat flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix the coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and 1/2 c. of the date paste together, and add to the flour/salt mixture. Mix thoroughly, it will feel like a soft dough, like a pie dough. If it is too dry, add water to correct.

To make filling, in a separate bowl, mix remaining date paste with fig paste. (Sarma calls to add 1/4 c. of agave to the filling, but I found the consistency to be ok with just a little water, and I didn't want to add any additional sweetener since I feel dates and figs are both pretty sweet. You can add some honey or agave if you like - and include a pinch of salt to taste.) It should have a jam-like consistency, not liquidy at all.

Cut two pieces of parchment paper that are about the size of your dehydrator screens. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, and press/roll each into an even layer. Make each sheet as close to the same size as possible. With a knife, cut one of the dough layers into 4 uniform rectangles. (This will be the top layer, cutting makes it easier to pick up without breaking.) Sarma says to freeze for 10 minutes to make it easier to handle, but I had no trouble using it right away.

Spread the fig mixture evenly over the dough layer that is not cut. Carefully place the 4 rectangles you cut from the top piece of dough over the top. Place the whole thing, on the parchment paper, on a dehydrator screen and dehydrate at 115 or less for 6 hours.

Remove from dehydrator, carefully flip the whole thing onto another piece of parchment-lined screen and peel off the bottom layer of parchment. Put it back into the dehydrator and keep dehydrating for another 6 hours.

Remove from the dehydrator, (move the parchment off of the dehydrator screen), and cut the dough into bars. Cut each quarter into 8 bars, to equal the 32 bars. Carefully transfer the bars individually to the dehydrator screens, and dehydrate for 10-12 hours longer until done.


To make oat flour, soak oat groats in water for at least 6 hours, drain and rinse well, dehydrate and grind in a VitaMix or grain mill.

To make date and fig pastes, soak the dried fruits for at least 2 hours in water at room temperature. (Separately, of course.) In the case of the figs, first cut off the hard stems. Drain and reserve the soaking water. Transfer to a food processor and mix, adding back the soaking liquid 1 T. at a time until it is the consistency of thick jam or butter.

raw vegan fig bars..

This was the type of project that had more than one opportunity for me to wake up in the night and attend to it. I didn't choose to do this. I just let the bars sit until I woke up naturally to continue attending to them. You can of course, plan ahead to adjust for timing - but I don't think it's crucial. The fig bars are really done when you are happy with the texture, since all of the ingredients are able to be eaten in their raw states. You can't mess them up!

We loved these bars. My picky kid loved these bars! He was lobbying eating his whole dinner to have one for dessert afterwards, so I think they more than fit the criteria I was hoping for. They taste better than Fig Newtons, and better than the butter laden homemade versions of fig bars I've made in the past. I was so excited, I bought a couple pounds of buckwheat, sprouted and dehydrated it, to get started immediately on my next raw vegan dessert.

sprouted buckwheat

As I write on this cold, sunny, Saturday afternoon, the gentle hum of the dehydrator keeps me company as a wholesome buckwheat Rice Krispie variation makes its way to done. I had never had a buckwheat berry before, let alone a sprouted and dehydrated one. It is better than a Krispie for sure, and so is the marshmallow-reminiscent binder of young Thai coconuts, coconut oil and other things that I tweaked so much I'm glad I wrote them down. I could have just eaten it by the bowlful, but I'm glad I formed them into bars and have the patience to wait until another day. I'll have the fig bars as company until they are ready.

buckwheat <span class=

Apologies to Sarma for substituting up her awesome recipes. Great Big Thanks to the Milwaukee Public Library for their continual purchase of stellar cookbooks. This is a book that I'll have to purchase, if only for the desserts alone. Not that I won't be trying many other things in the savory veins. I'll stop myself from immediately running out to look for oyster mushrooms, but probably not for long. Then a long-planned dinner may be arriving on my table, at home in the din of dehydrating grains, percolating sourdough starter, and all the other things that somehow easily become obsessions to me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dehydrated Granola.

Last week, I happened to notice a bookmark and comment I left on a recipe more than a year ago. It's shouldn't be so surprising when time passes so quickly, but it always is. Little glimpses into my thought patterns from a while back are kind of strange. Who was that person who commented then? What was I eating and obsessing over? When the comment is left on a staple like granola, it isn't too hard to remember the reason why I bookmarked it - but it is easy to see why I forgot about it, since I only inherited a dehydrator somewhat recently.

Now a granola recipe from a blog entitled Roasting Rambler has to be great, right? And, it is - that's for sure. I actually made it without tweaking (the last photo on this post), well, I barely tweaked it, for the first time last week, all those months after I had forgotten that the idea of drying out a paste granola was absolutely brilliant. I wasn't disappointed either. It was super crunchy and delicious, my hand and both of my Kiddo's hands both made swift work of the rather small batch over the course of the week.

Yesterday after breakfast, I was hit by the urge to organize my spice cupboard. It's actually one of my favorite things about my kitchen, and contains a lot more than just spices. The top shelf appropriately holds my modest liquor cabinet. The next down, canning jars of bulk grains, nuts and seeds. Then, my shelves of spices: one shelf holds jars contained in a wooden filing box I found at a rummage, and another two baskets of miscellaneous must haves from Spice House wanderings (and things that I use in close proximity like extracts, brown sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch. The bottom shelf is for oils, molasses, honey, sugar jar.

In the late 40's when my house was built, I assume that having such a convenient nook for cooking and baking essentials was still prerequisite for the modern housewife. I like considering myself a modern housewife who appreciates it still. I do not like that it frequently needs going through, as I tend to toss things in there despite my constantly renewed vows that I will keep it organized and faced, beautiful to look at when the shuttered door swings open.

With the success of dehydrated granola still implanted, I consolidated my jars. I discovered dried dates that were almost brittle with age, dried figs that were surprisingly soft enough to tear in two, several cranberries that were past their eating-out-of-hand prime. Using the same proportions as the Roasting Rambler's original recipe, I concocted another dehydrated granola - excited that the possibilities for this were endless.

The base of the granola is dried fruit mixed with lemon juice and enough water to make it run easily through the food processor blade. I found both times I've made it that I didn't need the full amount of water, just add it until the mixture is homogeneous and moves freely. I also found that the double batch amount that I've listed below has no trouble being mixed in the food processor. If you would double my amounts listed, it's possibly you may run into some blending trouble depending on the age of your dried fruits...

Dehydrated Granola (original recipe from the Roasting Rambler, adapted)
  • 12 mixed dried fruit (I used about half dates, then figs and cranberries)
  • 14 oz. total nuts and/or seeds (I used a 12 oz. mixture of crispy almonds, walnuts and peanuts, and 2 oz. sesame seed)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 t. salt (you may wish to use a tad less)
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 oz. unsweetened coconut (I use a brand like this)
  • 1 oz. cacao nibs
In a food pro, pulse the nuts (I leave the sesame seeds out, since they are so small anyway) until they are a uniform consistency that you would prefer in your granola, about 15 one second pulses. Empty them into a large bowl.

Add dried fruit to food pro, and pulse to chop. Add the lemon juice, salt, cinnamon and vanilla, and run the processor to blend the mixture well. With the motor running, add the water through the top until the mixture is like a runny paste. (I'm imagining I will add cocoa powder to the mixture at this point sometime...)

Scrape the dried fruit paste into the bowl with the nuts and add in the sesame seeds (if you didn't add them to the nut mixture), the coconut and the cacao nibs. Stir well to combine.

Spread the mixture on two dehydrator trays lined with parchment paper. Try to spread it as thin and as even as possible, without worrying about it too much. Dehydrate (I used 147 degrees) for 8-12 hours, longer if it still isn't brittle when you check it.

Break into pieces and store in glass jars. I like to keep excess of all granola in the freezer if I have the space, since I feel that it stays crunchier - but it's not necessary I'm sure.

fruit paste.

the granola mixture prior to dehydration.

spread as thin as possible.

after dehydrating.

I got 2 1/2 quart jars full of dehydrated granola. I keep my dehydrator in the basement, and when I ran busily up and downstairs, trekking clean laundry to the clotheslines I kept peeking in to look at it. Laundry complete, I then forgot all about it until this morning, when the machine had turned itself off, and it was done: crunchy, brittle shards just waiting to be broken in my hands.

I want to more fully embrace my dehydrator this year. Since it came to live with me, I don't feel I've given it the usage it deserves. I have quite a lot of tart cherries on the way, and think I'll enter the world of fruit leathers as well as dried fruit. We made fruit leathers when I was a kid, but I don't think I've had one since. I'm fairly excited to puree something cherry and apricotish in the VitaMix to try out. Come Fall, I may even try candying my own cranberries, if I can get past the tradition of just making and then eating a whole batch of these instead.

It seems like I'm starting to feel like I can barely keep up. I remember often my Mom telling me that it felt like her 30's came in "clumps", the time just flew with the business of child raising, food prep and preservation, gardening and yard work. I like to think that I have unending stamina, that I can work until my hands positively bleed, sleep 3 hours and then get up and work some more. But today I'm tired. I slept on the couch this afternoon in full sight of a basket of unfolded laundry. I didn't do the lunch dishes until after 7 pm, after a nighttime library nature program where my son was transformed into the cutest ant ever. I refuse to admit that I need sleep, and I do - though now it's getting late and that nap is beginning to make me feel like I could go all night. I probably should since I have 4 pounds of dilly beans to pickle...

I suppose they will still be there in the morning, when a handful of this new granola makes itself my breakfast with a few tart cherries that I had to buy from a favorite orchard owner today. It could be disheartening to think of all the things I've forgotten out there that are likely as great as this granola. It's disheartening to think that my memory isn't quite as sharp as it used to be. For now, I remember what I need when I need it I guess.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

World Nutella Day? I'm In.

In the last "real" job I had, I worked odd hours at the airport. During this time, I worked with a guy who had two full time jobs, one for us and the other at a foundry. I know for a fact, he was working 80 hours a week, and still had time to play soccer and stock up on the cherry Luden's cough drops for which he was famous for offering out of his shirt pocket. "When do you sleep?" I asked him. "Oh, mi hija, I sleep four hours a night. That's all I need."

Four hours seems a bit on the shy side, but I do think of him whenever I hit my 6-7 hour mark and wake up bright eyed and completely rested before 4:00 AM. If I am tired and decide to turn in early, as I did last night, sure enough the morning comes much earlier than usual. Try as I might, I can not get back to sleep. Fortunately, I have the palm sized Internet to keep me from getting up and waking the boys before their time.

I'm not a huge Facebooker. I wish I could be a social network guru, but to be honest, I don't really care. I do find it useful to weed through potentially interesting information and blog posts that I may not get to if I didn't have the reminder. Generally, in the early hours, the few European contacts I follow are most active - in the case of this morning, David Leibovitz. He informed me today was World Nutella Day, and continued with a blog post about making it yourself. He opened with a story about one of his past co-workers, which I found fitting as I lay reading in the dark of nearly 4 AM...

This was just the early morning convincing I needed to use up some hazelnuts that have been hiding out in the pantry since before Christmas. Hazelnuts are one of the nuts that I don't tend to eat out of hand as often as pecans or almonds, or pretty much any other nut. I had planned awhile back on making the recipe that the LA Times had published. But after Googling around for a half hour or so, and remembering about Sally Fallon's nut butters (she uses coconut oil and brined nuts...), I altered a bunch of methods to what I had. As soon as 7 o'clock rolled around (I did fall back to sleep somewhere around 6ish), I got up and toasted some hazelnuts.

Nutella is one thing that I can accurately remember the first time I tried. It was 1996, and I had recently met my soon-to-be-best-friend who had foreign jars of this Italian chocolate hazelnut spread. Sasa had told me that she actually didn't like peanut butter, since she was raised on Nutella. After a taste, I could hardly blame her. When I visited Croatia in the Summer of 1997, whole meals consisted of Nutella on crusty bread, the particular combination that appeals to most aficionados. It was a few years later, but eventually Nutella could be found in almost every common supermarket - probably just around the time that I began reading labels and noticing that although delicious, it was full of hydrogenated fat.

Until I made some this morning, I think it had seriously been years since I indulged in Nutella. This is a tragedy! Of all the things I've made at home to approximate their store-bought counterparts, this chocolate hazelnut spread is the closest to accurate. Knowing it is much more healthful, it can be an indulgence worthy of World Nutella Day and every day.

The recipe David Leibovitz posted looked great, but contained things not on hand like dry milk. As I'm not Parisian, and cannot toss on a coat and walk to the nearest market (well, I could but it would have taken me a few hours before I could have continued), I settled for blending a few different recipes. My package of hazelnuts was 8 ounces, shy of the 2 cups most recipes required. Many people mix this in their food processors with good results. I used the Vita-Mix, which produced an exceptionally smooth spread. It hardened in the fridge over the course of the morning, but softened when allowed to come back to room temperature in time for "lunch".

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread (adapted from the LA Times, Su Good Sweets, and a few other perusals...)
  • 8 oz. raw hazelnuts
  • 3/4 c. powdered sugar
  • heaping 1/4 c. Omehene cocoa powder
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • up to 1/4 c. coconut oil, melted
Toast hazelnuts on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes - until they begin to smell toasted. Remove as many loose skins as you are able without being too particular. Unless you like being particular, then knock yourself out.

Blend the hazelnuts in the Vita-Mix (or food pro, it will take about 5 minutes according to most sources). When about half blended, add powdered sugar and cocoa powder and continue mixing until somewhat smooth. (It's probably not going to move through the blades until the oil is added.) Taste, and add vanilla and salt to your liking.

Then with machine running again, pour in the melted oil and process until it forms a smooth paste.

Makes a heaping cup or so of spread.

I am fairly certain this spread will not stick around for long. When I make it again, I may try brining my nuts overnight in salted water, then dehydrating them before continuing (and likely omitting the salt in the recipe). Many recipes also called for using honey as a sweetener, which appeals to me as well, even if it might change the flavor a little.

Do I think something as simple as chocolate and hazelnuts warrants it's own Day? Yes, I do. There are plenty of lesser things that we celebrate in life, that's for sure. One thing I know is if I wake up far too early again tomorrow, I'll hop quietly into the kitchen and get out a spoon... You will do the same if you make this stuff. It is perfectly addicting.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Here it is: Beer Sourdough!

After the recent success of the commercial yeast beer bread, I knew I had to try using beer in my sourdough. It not only works, but it works efficiently, rising and baking in a mere 6 hours start to finish. Oh, and it is delicious.

The quickest Google search ever at the end of my last post led me to this recipe from Elizabeth Yetter. Yesterday afternoon, I mixed up a half batch using half a Sam Adams I found in our basement fridge. Her original recipe calls for a whole 12 oz. beer for 2 loaves, but I decided to half it - not knowing that the outcome would be so great. It made a smallish loaf that I decided to bake in a free-formed oblong shape in my cast iron pot. Since it was smaller, I altered the temperature and baking time from my normal "bread-in-a-pot" methods. Happily, all the bread forces were working with me! When the rest of the world celebrated the end of the workweek, I was happily geeking out in my kitchen over the successes of another sourdough bread...

This particular beer is far less assertive than the IPA in my last bread, but nonetheless apparent in the rising dough. I warmed the sealed bottle in warm water like I did previously, and in 15 minutes or so, the chill was completely off. Mixing is fast, and the dough was risen and ready for it's shaping and second rise in about 3 hours. Meanwhile, I keep an eye on the dough, noting how fresh and yeasty it smelled. My Husband declared that it smelled good, like a Brewer's game, so I knew that he'd happily eat it once baked.

I let it rise on my "proofing cloth", a cotton/linen towel that is properly seasoned with flour and a bit of wheat bran. Next time, I'll probably cover it first with a damp cloth and then wrap it up with the rest of the proofing cloth - the top of the rising loaf dried out just a bit. I don't think it mattered so much, since I turned it over when it came time to bake. I also gave it three little slashes across the belly to aid in expansion.

hipstamatic beer bread.

This bread has a malty undertone once baked that doesn't read so much as "beery". It also has sweetener, something I would have liked in the beer sandwich bread. I cut back on the sugar called for, and next time, will cut back again. It was just slightly too sweet for my tastes, which tend to be on the lower side. You could easily double the recipe (using the whole beer), and make one large loaf, or two smaller ones. If making a larger loaf, you may need to adjust the baking time accordingly.

Beer Sourdough Bread (adapted from Elizabeth Yetter)
makes 1 small loaf
  • 6 oz. room temperature beer, I used Sam Adams lager
  • 1/2 c. sourdough starter (well fed)
  • 2 T. sugar (next time I'll use 1 T.)
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 2 1/2 c. bread flour
Mix beer and sourdough starter in a large bowl. The beer will foam up. Add sugar, salt and bread flour, and mix to form a soft dough. I left mine a little on the wet side, and kneaded lazily for about 3 minutes in the bowl. I also let it rise in the same bowl. Leave in a warmish room-temperature place to rise until doubled, about 2 1/2-3 hours (depending on the activity of your starter).

After 1st rise, gently knead dough for a couple minutes, and form into a loaf shape of your choosing. Leave to rise, covered in a floured towel, for 2 - 2 1/2 hours until risen (I like to poke my finger in and make sure the indentation stays rather than bounces back.) Towards the end of the 2nd rise, preheat oven to 450 f. with covered cast iron pot on the middle rack.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove lid of cast iron pot and continue baking 10-15 more minutes until crust is a deep golden brown. Loaf should feel light for it's size, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool completely before slicing.

The finished, baked bread smelled intoxicating (pun, possibly intended). It was just about 10:30 when it came out of the oven, and I knew I'd wait until morning to cut into it. It was a nice site to see a fresh loaf of bread on the counter when I entered the kitchen this morning. I had a guest for breakfast, and we ate half of it with smoked cheese from the Netherlands: the sweet, malty bread perfect with the smoked, herby cheese. Upon cutting into the loaf, I noticed large holes throughout. I didn't knead the dough as directed in the original recipe before forming into a loaf. I just held it in my hands, and turned it over on itself several times... and made everyone nearby smell and touch it for good luck. I'll try kneading it longer next time and see if that will distribute the holes a bit more evenly, even though I was more than happy with my results.

Please remember, that if you are in the Milwaukee area, I have sourdough starter for you if you need it! Just drop me an email, and you can start some experiments of your own!

(the post has been yeastspotted.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Test Driving Yeasted Beer Bread

I was more than excited when Jeremy at Northern Brewer asked me to try making his yeasted beer bread recipe. Lately, I have been so obsessed with Christmas baking and one-pot meals that I feel that I haven't been overly creative when it comes to kitchen experiments. This experiment confirmed that not only do I love a challenge, I love to document the challenge and I love the feeling of usefulness that comes from helping out a fellow experimenter. I was also secretly glad that the dough was vegan, since I haven't posted anything vegan in a while!

Using beer to make yeast bread seems to be a natural fit. After all, the exact same type of fermentation is taking place to develop each. The recipe Jeremy provided me was pretty bare bones: flour, yeast, salt, a touch of oil, and beer. I used a spare IPA that has been in the far back of the fridge for awhile. It's certainly not my most favorite IPA, (I'd probably give that award to Three Floyds or Lagunita's) but for the purpose of carbonation and moisture in bread, it did just fine.

I have to preface this whole experiment by saying that in all of the breads I've made over the years, I have had none that had this much rise, and such a perfect interior crumb. It was soft, and golden brown. The dough felt smooth to work with and actually felt like it was carbonated. I could tell when I worked with it that it was going to be light, but wouldn't have suspected that it would be feather-light...

I used a basic method of straight-dough breadmaking, taking a few tricks from Cook's Illustrated. When I first started baking yeast breads regularly, I began with their American Sandwich Bread, which is just that: a standard, slightly sweet and fortified, white loaf bread. Applying the same technique to this dough seemed to work just fine.

The first thing I had to do with an ice-cold, refrigerated beer though, is warm it up. I didn't want to heat it on the stove or in in the microwave, hoping to preserve those carbonating bubbles. Instead, I ran some super hot tap water, and put the sealed bottle in a bowl of it for about an hour. The bottle felt warm to the touch, as did the beer when I poured it out.

I altered the recipe slightly to include a little more liquid and salt, and I mixed it in a stand mixer. You could easily mix it by hand, just increase the kneading time slightly. Basically, you want a smooth dough that isn't sticky to the touch. The finished bread has a bitter edge from using the IPA; even though I really liked it, I think I may add a tablespoon or two of honey next time to counteract. This bread makes a killer grilled cheese.

IPA Bread (a.k.a. Jeremy King's Beer Bread)
  • 4 c. bread flour (I use King Arthur bread flour)
  • 1 1/4 t. kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
  • 1 T. vegetable oil (I used olive oil, and eyeballed it)
  • 1 1/4 c. warmish beer, as described above
  • up to 1/2 c. additional water or beer if needed
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. When the oven comes up to temperature, leave it on for 10 minutes, then turn it off.

Meanwhile, place flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, and stir to combine. Open beer, and pour carefully (to avoid a "head") into a large measuring cup. Add oil to measuring cup. Have the additional water or beer ready at the side of the mixer.

With the mixer running, add yeast to the beer and oil in the measuring cup. It's going to foam up vigorously, so work quickly. Stir to combine and immediately pour into the running stand mixer. You should be able to tell within a minute or so if you need additional liquid, I used about 1/2 c. extra water. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes until a smooth, cohesive dough is formed.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for a minute or so to shape into a tight ball. Place dough into an oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Place in preheated oven (which has been turned off), and let rise until doubled in size, 40-50 minutes.

When dough is finished with the first rise, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press air out. Aim to make a rectangle about 1 1/2 inches thick, that you can roll up into a loaf shape (so no longer than about 9 inches on one side). Tightly roll dough up into a loaf shape, and pinch the seam closed. Place dough in an oiled loaf pan with seam side down, and gently press dough into all the corners of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap (you can use the same piece that you used for the first rise), and place pan in a warm place to let rise for 20-30 minutes until dough almost doubles in size (this was about an inch over the top of my loaf pan).

Preheat oven to 350 when this is happening. (I typically put the loaf pan to rise on top of the stove, since it is pretty warm with residual heat from the oven.)

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the bread is golden brown, and sound rather hollow when tipped out of the pan and tapped on the bottom. Temperature, if you choose to check it this way, should read at least 190 when thermometer is inserted in the bottom of the loaf.

Prior to first rise.

End of first rise.

At the end of the second rise, a finger poked into the dough should remain...

I let the dough rise in the pan to about an inch above the rim.

...and I took it's temperature to double check my done-ness. It was 192.7 f.

So there it is: a perfectly tall and domed yeasted beer bread. It was hard to wait for it to cool, but I was able to endure the time to confirm that the interior was tightly knit and perfectly uniform. I ate the heel straight away, unadorned, so I could get an unbiased taste. It was great, and it was actually beery - something that surprised me. It was great alongside the soup I made for supper last night, and toasts extremely well. I may have a new favorite loaf pan bread recipe...

I'm not sure if this technique would work with my sourdough method. I am curious if the beer would ferment happily along with the starter for 18-24 hours before becoming bread, or if it would become too alcoholic and kill off the balance of the sourdough culture. The only way for me to know would be to try (or Google, I found one already here)... I'm also wondering how the flavor would change if I used different beers, weiss beers may make a fruitier loaf, and syrupy stouts perhaps a more molasses-y one. More complex home brews are going to have more interesting results, no doubt.

Now that the newness of January is almost a week old, I can start to see where my new year is heading. While I don't envision myself becoming a full-fledged brewer this year, I can see myself tinkering around with more beer-based recipes. I like thinking that in times past it was probably the women of the households that were culturing, brewing, and fermenting things to feed and nourish their families. In our modern American world, the craft of home brewing is usually dominated by men. Where and when did this shift take place? Man, have I got a lot of reading to do... good thing it will still be Winter for a few more months.

The more I experiment with and read about, the more I realize just how connected all foodstuffs are. The people curious in general with food and drink tend to overlap, making us all better rounded in the long run. Good things to remember in the New Year!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vegan Monday: Spaghetti Squash Soup

vegan spaghetti squash soup, originally uploaded by Rcakewalk.

I guess I should have waiting until after lunch to write my Vegan Monday post... since I took my own advice and did use up some forgotten vegetables in the fridge to make this soup for my lunch.

I had about 1 1/2 cups of leftover spaghetti squash, added 1/4 onion, one carrot, cut in half, one cup of water, some sliced garlic and sliced ginger root. I seasoned with red chile flakes, cassia cinnamon and salt and pepper and mixed everything in the VitaMix. (I decided about half-way through mixing to add a teaspoon of cornstarch to help thicken it. I'd have liked it a little thicker, perhaps I'll have some cooked leftover potatoes or sweet potatoes next time!)

One of the fun things about the VitaMix is that it can blend so fast that it makes soup hot. I don't need piping hot soup, so I let it blend for about 4 minutes, maybe a bit longer. Then, I poured my soup into an old tureen from my Gram and garnished with lots of raw walnuts, chopped Hidden Rose Apple, and Aleppo pepper.

Hidden Rose apples are new to me this year, and I love them. They are firm and spicy - not to mention a beautiful and surprising rose color on their interiors. Externally, they are a blushing green, so it is startling to see the pink middles.

If you don't have a VitaMix you can always make soup the normal way, and puree with an immersion or regular blender. A sure way to incorporate leftovers and vegetables into your diet is to remember that you can include them in soup. Never the same twice, I think I'll adopt this approach a lot in the coming months.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Vegan Monday: Spicy Biriyani

Not only do I love spicy food, but I love the word "spicy". In cooking, it so often denotes when something is hot or sharp in flavor, but I get excited when I see true spicy spices like cinnamon working hard and in tandem with more traditional definitions, turning something that would otherwise be a bit bland into something "awake" and exciting.

That is what I thought about when I was making this biriyani last Thursday. I had seen the recipe at Saveur quite a long while ago, and bookmarked it. The original recipe calls for chicken, but seeing as I had a block of tofu that needed using, I decided to marinate and bake it using the same flavors called for in the chicken. I then upped the amount of peppers in the rice, using a combination of jalapeno, red, orange and green peppers. Though you would be hard pressed to see them in the final picture, they are there I assure you.

I pressed the tofu to remove any additional water (I like our local Simple Soyman brand best) for about an hour before marinating and then baking. Since I had the time, I actually let the tofu sit for several hours in the marinade before baking it, but you probably wouldn't have to. I also was happy to discover that I could practically "juice" a jalapeno by grating it on the microplane - and it also allowed for less cleanup.

I baked the tofu and made the rice separately, and then tossed them together to serve. Even my Husband liked this (and had 2 servings!), a huge boost to my ego after he came from a shopping trip in which he purchased jam. (I have an entire shelf dedicated to homemade jams and jellies in my basement...) To store the leftovers, everything was combined. It was even better cold a couple of days later.

I don't really measure things when making baked tofu... I just add as much as I feel like, and make sure not to use too much oil so that the tofu develops that little bit of crispness around the edges as it bakes. That said, the spice mix below is approximate!

Spicy Baked Tofu
  • 1 package (16 oz or so) firm tofu (not silken)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 3/4 of a jalapeno, grated
  • 1/2 t. ground coriander
  • 1 T. grated ginger root
  • 1-2 t. cassia cinnamon
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cut the block of tofu in half horizontally (the Simple Soyman blocks are almost square sometimes...) and press between two towel lined plates for at least a half hour to remove any excess moisture. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients in a glass baking dish (9x9 works well).

After pressing, cut the two halves in half horizontally again, so you have 4 slabs about 3/4 inch thick. Dredge in marinade, and coat all sides well. Let sit for awhile, or bake right away as you prefer.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the tofu for 30-40 minutes, flipping over every 10, until the marinade has absorbed and the tofu looks semi-dry and "baked".

I ate a half of a square while working on the rest of the recipe:

A lot of the same flavors appear again in the rice, and the same thing applies. You can add or subtract as you like. The original recipe also called for soaking the rice. I have read that some types of basmati need soaking, and others don't. I typically don't soak the Tilda brand that I use, but did this time, just to follow instruction. You can or not - if you choose to, just soak for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse and proceed with the recipe.

Vegan Spicy Biriyani (adapted from Saveur)
  • 1 c. basmati rice
  • 2-3 T. coconut oil
  • 2-3 chiles de arbol, crumbled by hand
  • 1 medium onion (I used a white one), chopped medium
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ginger root, about 2 inches, grated
  • 2 t. cassia (Saigon) cinnamon
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced and/or chopped finely
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1/4 orange pepper, finely diced
  • 1/4 green pepper, finely diced
  • a lot of cilantro
  • salt and pepper
(If you would like to put it in the oven to bake, you can time it to go in around the same time as the tofu is coming out: preheat the oven, or reduce the heat, to 350. You could also do the whole dish on the stovetop, the cooking times would be about the same. I used the oven for this instance.)

In a large, lidded saute pan, heat the coconut oil. Add the onion, sliced garlic and spices, and saute until the onions soften, about 6 minutes. Towards the end of the saute time, add the peppers, and let sweat for a minute or two.

Add the rice, along with 1 1/4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt (you can add more later if you like). Bring up to a boil, and (if cooking on the stovetop), reduce heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes before checking to see if the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and that it is tender. I like to let it sit off the heat for about 10 minutes with a kitchen towel between the lid and the pan to let it continue to steam. If you are baking it, after it boils, pop the lidded pan in the oven, and let it bake for 15-20 minutes, checking on progress of the rice around the 15 minute mark.

Using either method, let it stand several minutes before eating, and toss with the tofu and lots of chopped cilantro. In our case, you will also need to serve with a bit of Mae Ploy Sweet Chile Sauce.

With all the focus on local eating, I should be ashamed that I insist on foreign basmati rice. A few years ago, when I discovered that cooking rice wasn't a science that I needed to attend school to get to know, I visited an ethnic grocer looking for the famed Tilda brand of basmati rice. At that time, I couldn't find it, and went with Swad, a similarly delicious import. As with most specialty foods that at one time seemed scarce in my neck of the proverbial woods, Tilda is now relatively easy to find, and worth every extra cent it costs. All of the flavor of the faraway place can be found in that rice, and when I eat it, I think of the many many people worldwide who have a staple diet of rice. I also think of all the foods in that part of the world that I've never experienced, or that in general, I just know so little about. It has an overwhelming amount to offer me! Maybe that will be my next adventure: the foodstuffs of India and surrounding regions. I like not knowing what comes next from my kitchen... I'll likely wait a bit to embark on a new full-out obsession, since the sourdough is overtaking me and my reading habits lately.

(Lastly, an extra special thank you to Mary-Catherine for telling me that you like my Vegan Mondays. It really inspired me to get my act together and think consciously about making one interesting vegan thing a week to write about. I'm not eating a meat-heavy diet, but it's nice to have that extra little nudge of encouragement! :) )

Monday, October 18, 2010

Vegan Monday: Sourdough Peanut Butter Blondies.

Directly after finishing last Vegan Monday's Chocolate Sourdough cake, my fervor for all things sourdough led me on a quest for more sourdough desserts. Whilst looking at too much information, I found that I really can use sourdough starter in any baked good if I use this proportion: 1 cup of sourdough starter = 1/4 c. flour and 1/2 c. liquid. It seems logical to me, and it made this already great recipe into something even a bit healthier, at least in my own opinion.

I turned once again to Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero. (I still have these books on loan from Ginny, and it's embarrassing that I haven't even thought of returning them. You'll likely receive them back with some baked goods, Ginny - hope that makes up for my negligence!!) I am usually a chocolate person. I like chocolate with peanut butter, but not peanut butter with chocolate. Well, this recipe changed all that. It's fudgey and peanutty, thick and dense but not too rich. The perfect non-chocolate brownie.

I omitted the salt from the batter since I only had salted peanuts on hand for the top, and it was a horrible error. The blondies were still great, but missing that once nuance. Nothing a little homemade chocolate syrup (and *gasp*, a little homemade ice cream) didn't cure, but I won't omit it in the future.

Vegan Sourdough Peanut Butter Blondies (adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero)
  • 3/4 c. peanut butter (I used smooth, plain peanut butter from my co-op. Ingredient list: peanuts.)
  • 1 c. sourdough starter
  • half of a 1/3 c. measure of oil (I used coconut oil, and eyeballed it)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/3 c. peanuts (for the top - I didn't measure)
Preheat oven to 350. The girls say to use a 8x8 square metal baking dish, but I don't have one, so I used an 8 inch cake tin, and it worked fine. Lightly grease your baking container of choice.

In a large bowl, mix together peanut butter, oil and brown sugar. Mix well, until well incorporated. Add the sourdough starter and vanilla, and blend in thoroughly.

Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dough (using your hands if you need to) well. The batter is very thick, and doesn't spread on it's own. Transfer dough to baking tin, press into sides, and press the peanuts into the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set and lightly browned on top. Cool completely in tin before slicing.

There isn't much more to say about these beauties. They are what they purport to be, and they are delicious. No one would guess they are vegan, and any die hard peanut fans can rest assured that a peanut craving will be satiated. This pan is long gone, but I feel like I want to make another one.

Oh, it's so easy for me to fall head over heels for sweets during this time of year. From the first whisper of cool weather straight on til January, I feel like I'm entitled to make (and, by default, eat) any and all sweets my heart desires - and fortunately December allows me to give away to my hearts content. By the time January rolls around, I'm easily reconditioned. In time and solidarity with other resolution-makers, I want no sugar whatsoever, and I want to be a virtuous and healthy eater, free of the entrapments of my all mighty sweet tooth.

I have to make a serious pact with myself to eat less sugar, at least until Thanksgiving. Part of the problem, is that I just love to bake, and falling leaves and brisk, humidity free days only serve to add fuel to the fire. But now that I've made actual bread with my starter, I have less excuse to want to use up starter in hollow caloric and fleeting deliciousness, and can concentrate on more healthful endeavors. Wish me luck!