Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Magic Bars

In my experience, there are a few non-vegan foods that just can't be replicated.  Cheese is one of them, and I tend to steer clear of eating vegan "cheese" if I can.  Sweetened condensed milk is another one...or so I thought.  This sweet baking ingredient is one of the key components of magic bars--a dessert I hadn't eaten since becoming vegan. 

Enter Chef Cloe's Beach Cookies recipe, passed along to me by my coworker.  These beach cookies (magic bars, layer bars) do justice to the bars I remember, even without sweetened condensed milk.  Victory!

Slightly blurry; wholly delicious.
Magic Bars
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter, melted
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I bought vegan graham crackers and used a food processor to create crumbs)
  • 1 cup coconut milk, mixed well before measuring
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1.5 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 - 12 ounce package vegan chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (ideally toasted)

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Get out a 13x9" nonstick baking pan.

Next, pour the melted butter into the bottom of the pan, making sure the bottom is completely covered.  Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs into the pan to create an even layer, and then use your hands to press down the crumbs to create the crust. 

Whisk together the coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla, salt, and cornstarch in a small bowl.  Carefully drizzle the mixture as evenly as possible over the graham cracker crust.  Sprinkle the coconut across the pan as the next layer, followed by layers of chocolate chips and walnuts.  Finally, use your hand to lightly press the walnut/chocolate chip layer a bit into the rest of the bars. 

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the edges appear lightly browned. IMPORTANT: Let the bars cool and then refrigerate for a few hours before eating.  Really, these bars are much better when they're cold! 

Yields 1 pan magic bars.

These bars really hit the spot as a sweet summertime treat.  They're chocolatey and nutty without being heavy or too rich, and the coconut flavor is nice and light.  The crunchy, perfectly sweet ingredients contribute to a very satisfying bite.  Thank you, Chef Cloe.
This recipe is a bit on the expensive side, as walnuts and maple syrup certainly aren't cheap.  But, everything should be very easy to find, and it will be worth it once you do.
 Ease of Preparation:        
These bars are quite easy to make.  Lots of sprinkling and layering, which is hard to mess up.  If you don't have a food processor or some other way of crushing graham crackers into crumbs, you can always buy pre-made graham cracker crumbs. 
Non-vegan friendliness:       
While I must admit that it's been many years since I've had non-vegan magic bars, I am confident that these taste just as good.  Rachel noted that nothing seems "off" about the bars.  In fact, coconut milk works quite well given the inclusion of coconut flakes, anyway.  I'm sure we'll be making these again sometime soon. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Squash Bread

Although I haven't yet figured out how to cultivate a garden in my apartment, I was fortunate enough to receive two home-grown summer squashes from my parents' garden.  Thank you, mom and dad, for enabling me to make Summer Squash Bread! 

A sweet, fragrant loaf of squash bread.

Summer Squash Bread
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups grated summer squash
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey or another liquid sweetener
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1.5 cups Ghirardelli chocolate chips (optional)

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place 12 muffin cups in a muffin tin and set aside.  Lightly grease a loaf pan and set aside. 

Next, mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.  Form a well in the center of the bowl and set aside.  In a separate medium bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients (except chocolate chips).  Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Then fold in the chocolate chips.

Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full with batter; then pour the remaining batter into the loaf pan.  Bake both pans for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Once the muffins have been removed, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the loaf for another 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Once the muffins have cooled for a few minutes in the pan, remove them to cool completely on a wire rack. 

Yields 12 muffins and 1 loaf.

I'm not sure there are many more delicious ways to eat squash.  This spiced bread is moist and dense, yet springy.  I'd say it's almost more of a cake than a bread.  The chocolate chips are optional--and the bread would be great without them--but for the chocoholic like me, they do add a little something special.  
This "bread" recipe makes use of a healthy number of fruits and vegetables (pun intended!), so it's probably best made in the summer. 
 Ease of Preparation:        
If you have a grater attachment on your food processor, this is a good time to use it.  Once the ingredients are ready to go, the method is quite simple.
Non-vegan friendliness:       
I brought the muffins in to work and they were a big hit!  My vegan/gluten-free coworker and I are slowly but surely exposing our office to the joys of vegan baking. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Last week we decided to try out a new recipe for vegan macaroni and cheese.  I've tried several such recipes as a vegan, but none of them has been quite right.  Many vegan mac and cheese recipes incorporate nutritional yeast, a powdery substance with a nutty, cheesy flavor; however, in addition to the creamy, cheesy flavor it brings to a dish, nutritional yeast also has an aftertaste that can mar the overall tastiness. 

With that in mind, I decided to make use of the rich nuttiness of cashews in this version of Baked Macaroni and Cheese. 

Don't you love that crusty baked top?

Spoiler alert: it turns out that nuts and vegetables can combine into a pretty delicious pasta sauce, but they certainly don't become cheese. 

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
  • 8 ounces whole wheat macaroni
  • 4 slices of old bread, torn into large pieces
  • 2 tablespoons + 1/3 cup vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup onion, diced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup unsalted cashews
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika

First, prepare the macaroni in salted water, according to package instructions.  Drain and set aside.

Next, place the bread and 2 tablespoons butter in a food processor and process until you have fine breadcrumbs.  Set aside.

At this point, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Then, bring the shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion, and water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Cook for 15 minutes or until very soft.  Meanwhile, process the cashews, salt, garlic, 1/3 cup butter, mustard, lemon juice, pepper, and cayenne in a food processor or blender.  Once the vegetables are cooked, add them along with the cooking water to the blender and mix until smooth.  

Mix together the pasta and "cheese" sauce in a large casserole dish or glass baking pan.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and dust with paprika.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Serve hot.

Serves 6.

We all enjoyed this pasta dish--and it was incredible to see vegetables and nuts come together into such a delicious sauce--but, when it comes down to it, this macaroni and cheese just isn't very cheesy.  The flavor was nutty and smooth, but neither creamy nor gooey.  As Rachel put it, "It's [not] the cheesiest!"  Still, as I said, it was a tasty dish.  My favorite part was probably the crispy, crunchy texture of the baked topping...and the fact that it didn't set me back over 1,000 calories.
This recipe uses many ingredients to make up for one (cheese), but nothing is too hard to find.  Buying cashews might seem a little expensive when you only need 1/4 cup, but you can always snack on the extras later.  Yum.
 Ease of Preparation:        
This recipe takes a while to make between the boiling and baking, but it's all pretty simple (as long as you have a blender or food processor). 
Non-vegan friendliness:       
Yummy pasta dish?  Yes.  Macaroni and cheese?  No. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Vegetable Dip

Looking for something to do with the vegan sour cream you have left over from making Rajma Masala with Spinach?  Or, do you simply enjoy dipping chips, veggies, and other things into vegetable dip? 

Naturally, we answered "yes" to both of those questions; so, we made an easy-peasy, party-friendly vegetable dip: just mix together whatever's left of your 12 ounce container of vegan sour cream with one packet of vegetable soup mix. 


Rajma Masala with Spinach

While I do still find time to cook in between applying for jobs, blogging has fallen by the wayside.  I made it a point to blog about the delicious red kidney bean dish we made last week, though.  We made Rajma Masala with Spinach--a creamy, filling Indian dinner. 

Rajma Masala served with rice and a samosa wrap.

Rajma Masala with Spinach
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (or just add equal parts ground black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon)
  • 1 red chili pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup unflavored tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 - 15.5 ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 - 15.5 ounce can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 - 9 ounce bag fresh spinach (or more or less, to taste)
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup vegan sour cream

First, heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion and sauté until it begins to brown.  Then add the ginger, garlic, and 2 tablespoons water; cover and cook for two more minutes, stirring frequently.

Next, add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili powder, garam masala, chili pepper, tomato sauce, and cilantro. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Then add enough water to get a saucy consistency.

Finally, add the beans, spinach, and salt and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until spinach has wilted and flavors have combined. Remove from heat, mix in sour cream, and serve immediately with rice.

Serves 4-6

The creaminess of this dish was definitely the highlight.  Rachel was pleasantly surprised that we were able to bring the smooth texture that she loves about Indian food to a vegan dish.  The dish wasn't too spicy--especially when combined with rice--but it still had a rich, complex flavor. 
At first glance, this dish might seem unmanageable.  Between the fairly unusual spices and the vegan sour cream, this recipe loses some of its accessibility.  However, we were able to find all of these spices and the vegan sour cream (Tofutti brand) at our usual grocery store.  You might be surprised what you can find quite easily these days.
 Ease of Preparation:        
This is a pretty straightforward recipe.  The Rajma Masala doesn't take too long to make, but rice can take a while.  Just be sure to start the rice before beginning this recipe.
Non-vegan friendliness:       
As I mentioned, we all loved the taste and texture of this dish.  Even though it was filling, we all wanted more.  I wrote that it serves 4-6 because it barely got the three of us through 2 dinners!