Category Archives: In the Kitchen

Good Morning, Orange Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake!

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I’m gonna keep this brief (for me).

Some Saturdays, you wake up and just want to laze about. You don’t want to put on pants. You don’t want to shower. You don’t want to cook, and you barely have the patience or energy to make a pot of coffee. All that you want to do – and in this scenario, you have the same cultural tastes as I do – is sit around in your pajamas, eat a slice of leftover pizza, drink that coffee you just barely mustered the strength to make, and stream The Hunger Games on Netflix. Needless to say, you’re not likely to cook anything. You’re not really likely to contribute anything to the betterment of your world. That’s okay. That’s for Sunday.

Then, there are Saturdays when you wake up and the world is your oyster, an oyster that you’re prepared to go out, catch, bring home, wash, prepare, and eat. You leap out of bed, get into your workout clothes, run a few miles, make some coffee, cook breakfast, clean the house, do your laundry, go shopping, meet up with your friends for some frozen yogurt, put in some volunteer hours, bake a cake, make a few dinner courses, host a potluck dinner party, and spend the waining hours of your day sipping wine and chatting with your guests.

Okay, so I’ve never really had one of those latter Saturdays. But for weekend days that you’re feeling a tad more productive than the former kind of Saturday mentioned, this coffee cake is for you.

I adapted a recipe from one of my favorite go-to sources for breakfast and brunch foods, Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I was worried that the orange and coffee flavors of the loaf would contradict, but the key is to limit the amount of each so as to achieve a flavor balance. Plus, chocolate!

This is an incredibly simple coffee cake to make, so feel free to give it a try even on those mornings where you really can’t be bothered to change into real person clothes.

Ingredients
– 1 cup non-dairy milk
– 1 tablespoon instant coffee crystals
-1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
– 2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup all purpose, 1 cup whole grain for a healthier option)
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 tablespoon baking powder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup canola oil
– 1/2 tsp orange extract
– 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a loaf pan OR 9X9 pie dish.

In a 1/2 cup of the milk, dissolve the coffee crystals. Stir in the rest of the milk and vinegar and set aside.

Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk mixture, oil, vanilla and orange extracts. Mix together until batter is just moistened, then fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into loaf pan or dish and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Bake about 2-3 minutes longer for a crumblier cake.)

Allow to cool. Queue up your favorite series on Netflix, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Morning, Vegan Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies!

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I am exceptionally lucky to have met my partner, James, but I am also incredibly lucky that, as part of the package of falling in love with this great guy, I get to spend occasional time with his terrific folks. Down-to-earth, witty, loving, and considerate, it’s no wonder great parents like them produced such a lovable kid.

James’s mom, Nancy, is an awesome cook (as well as a phenomenal knitter). A lot of moms, when confronted with a child’s decision to adopt a vegan diet, might freak out or panic about what to serve them. Any trepidation Nancy might have had about James’s vegan tendencies have long since been eschewed in favor of veganizing old favorites, as well as seeking out new recipes to throw into the mix. Her efforts have delivered delicious vegan dish after delicious vegan dish. (Just goes to show you that you don’t have to live a diet to cook for the diet. All you need is a willingness to try out new ingredients and adapt what you already know about cooking and baking into an unfamiliar realm. The basic skills still apply.)

On a recent visit, Nancy showed me a new addition to her cookbook collection: Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Kitchen. Don’t know who Chloe Coscarelli is? Neither did I, but apparently she took the top prize on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Her stuff is all vegan, thus her success on a Food Network reality cooking competition has allowed her to leap-frog other established divas of the vegan cookbook scene.

Okay, I wasn’t exactly being fair-minded when I first started looking at the book. Cookbooks from TV stars tend to disappoint. Either the recipes are fairly simplistic dishes with exotic touches (usually hard to find or rare ingredients) or they’re extraordinarily complicated (more complicated than I suspect they even have to be). There’s also an incredibly annoying tendency to put the persona of the chef before the food itself – so instead of mouth-watering photographs of dishes you can’t wait to recreate, there are irritating shots of the smiling, doe-eyed cook laughing with friends, holding a cupcake or cookie, or standing near food that one presumes she has just whipped up, in between photo shoots and loving life.

Yes, I’m simply not a fan of this type of cookbook. Chloe’s Kitchen, however, offers more than a cursory glance at its contents might suggest. Yes, there’s the requisite ‘wholesome girl-next-door chef’ shots, plus a pretty grating introduction and bland writing throughout…

BUT I am always willing to overcome my prejudices to try out a promising recipe. Having long searched for an appropriate vegan replacement for my favorite meatloaf recipe, Chloe’s tempeh loaf recipe was too tempting not to attempt.

I’m a fan of the policy that one good recipe can make a cookbook worthwhile. If that policy holds, then Chloe’s Kitchen should be on every vegan’s cookbook shelf, based off that tempeh meatloaf alone. The result was so delicious, it warranted another round with the cookbook. Because Chloe is first and foremost known as a vegan baker, I decided to give one of her desserts a try.

I changed some of the proportions on this cookie recipe. Most notably, I was not able to easily locate instant espresso powder, so I used instant coffee instead. It worked just as well and added a little extra buzz to a sugar-packed, delicious cookie. Plus, when a baked good has coffee in it, you can practically call it breakfast. At least I did.

Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup vegan margarine
– 2 tbsp instant coffee (Finely ground, if possible. Cheap is OK – I used Taster’s Choice packets from Family Dollar)
– 1 cup powdered sugar
– 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
– 1 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips
– Granulated sugar for sprinkling

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or foil. (Note: aluminum foil will brown the bottoms of the cookies faster.)

– Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

– Using a mixer, beat together margarine and instant coffee until well combined, then add powdered and brown sugars. Beat until blended thoroughly. Mix in flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time.

– Stir in chocolate chips.

– Scoop dough by the tablespoon and roll into semi-round disks. Roll each disk in granulated sugar. Place on baking sheet 2-3 inches apart.

– Bake cookies about 12-14 minutes or until edges are browned.

Cheeky Chickpea Falafel

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One way that I knew I was becoming an adult was that my method of making falafel evolved past using the boxed, pre-made falafel mix produced by Manischewitz. Upon producing my first batch of from-scratch, homemade falafel, I felt something akin to what people must feel when they make their first batch of homemade chicken noodle soup or their first non-frozen, non-Stouffer’s lasagna. Heck, I felt that way when I made my first from-scratch pancakes, and pancakes are one of the simplest (and cheapest) things to produce from scratch.

Why do we rely on pre-made goods to deliver the foods we enjoy? I think it’s a combination of the following things: Over-reliance on the food experiences we are used to, fear of screwing up our favorites, and limited time, patience, energy, and equipment. Also, for years I prepared food mainly for myself and most recipes, whether it’s a pot of soup or a plate of falafel, produce too much for one person to consume in a short period of time. Short of dinner parties and potlucks, a can of soup made more sense for my lifestyle.

I cook for two (sometimes three, if our roommate is home) now, so the amount of food is no question. But I have a long commute to and from work, so when I come home to prepare dinner, fast and simple is usually the rule. One of the defining factors of my adult life is when I decided fast and simple did not have to mean pre-made or processed.

Thanks, adulthood!

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CSA #10 and the Wonderful World of Tempeh

It was a hectic Thursday of CSA pick-up and more sad goodbyes. Everyone is leaving town and I’m swimming in beautiful farm-fresh vegetables, not a terribly opportune moment to have a kitchen so plentiful, but so be it. James and I have somehow managed to get the stuff eaten, even if a few items end up sacrificed.

And I’m getting better and better at using what we have on hand. Just a quick (and unfortunately photo-less) recap:
– The Swiss chard ended up in another vegan frittata
– The carrots and summer squash went into a salad of shredded red cabbage
– The beans and broccoli were steamed and eaten as a late-night snack
– One tomato was used in the production of TLTs. The others were diced up and served on pasta, along with fried zucchini and summer squash.
– The Chinese eggplant was sliced, sauteed, and eaten over rice.
– The array of small tomatoes made their way into various pastas and salads
– The onion and garlic were used throughout the week, portioned out over various dishes.

We’ve eaten pretty darn well thanks to the CSA subscription. I’ve been holding onto the beets, but I’m thinking a beet and spinach salad might be in order for later on today. With the fair amount of cooking done over the weekend, the simpler the better for this rainy Monday afternoon.

I didn’t get time to take pictures of the entire CSA bounty for this past week, but among the highlights:
– Another robust eggplant
– Kale
– A beautiful assortment of tomatoes
– Braising greens
– Carrots
– Potatoes (all were promptly eaten the next morning)
– Purple beans
– Zucchini
– Garlic
– Onion

Last week also marked a transition for me as I went from casual to utterly devoted fan of tempeh. While I eat tofu at least five out of seven days a week and have even tried my hand at making my own seitan more than a few times, I have only worked sparingly with tempeh. The earthy, slightly nutty, slightly mushroom-y flavor has always been something I was hesitant to work with, not so much in regards to my own palate as others. No matter what you do with tempeh, it’s always going to have those underlying flavors. The trick to working with it is to use it in dishes where its primary qualities play into the overall flavors of the dish. Tempeh doesn’t change, it changes you.

Tempeh has been a staple of Indonesia for thousands of years. Soy beans are plentiful, the production method is fairly simple, and the result is a versatile substance that is a protein powerhouse. Seriously, in a nutritional battle between tempeh and its Southeast Asian soybean brother, tofu, tempeh wins every round. The traditional starter for the fermentation process even boosted the B12 levels of the tempeh to ridiculously high proportions, although production stateside tends to be without this property.

While tofu is available in nearly every supermarket now, tempeh is still mostly relegated to specific larger groceries (Whole Foods) and specialty food stores. Its stunted availability is probably one of the reasons why many vegetarians and vegans don’t acquaint themselves with tempeh right away. Getting to know tempeh allows one to adjust to its unique flavor properties. Learning the intricacies of the food allows you to better utilize its strong points in the dishes where it is incorporated.

Unlike tofu, which is a veritable flavor sponge, tempeh has restrictions, but not as many as you might think. The nutty flavors play well against most basic sauces and its texture makes it easy to use for sandwiches, stir fry, pasta, etc. The best way to get to know tempeh early on is to grill it. Grilled tempeh toughens up the texture to a chewy, meaty consistency, and accentuates the smokey qualities. It also takes to a marinade really well, so there’s no excuse for lack of flavor.

Because most of my cookbooks are still packed, I’ve been steadily working my way through the indispensable Vegan Brunch. For months, I have been eyeing up “Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs,” thinking two things: 1) “What a great way to use tempeh!” and 2) “Holy shit, puff pastry!” When I had my family over for brunch to break in my new residence, I figured now was the time to shoot for something a bit more advanced than pancakes and scramble and potatoes.

Given all the skills I have developed over the past few years, surely I could make something as simple but sophisticated as these lovely little puffed squares. Surely something this manageable was within my purview. I could even make a decent vegan gravy to match. It was all going to be so simple.

Of course I screw it up. Not having ever worked with puff pastry, I didn’t exactly interpret the instructions correctly. Or maybe I did but became convinced that I hadn’t. Not really sure, but either way, I had to abruptly alter plans. That’s how square pastry puffs turned into pastry puff pinwheels. The rest is quickly devoured history.

Note on the recipe: The original called for at least an hour of marinading the tempeh, but I suggest overnight for full flavor. And don’t skip the fennel. It really brings together the sausage flavor of the filling mix.

Tempeh Sausage Puff Pinwheels

Ingredients
– 8 oz. tempeh, crumbled
– 1 package puff pastry (as recommended by Vegan Brunch, Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is vegan)

For the marinade:
– 1 cup vegetable broth
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp lemon juice

For the tempeh filling:
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 red  bell pepper, finely chopped
– 1 small onion, finely chopped
– 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
– 2 tsp dried basil
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and black pepper to taste
– Extra olive oil

– Combine the ingredients for the marinade in an airtight container. Toss in the crumbled tempeh and seal. Keep in the fridge overnight.

– Prepare the a large pan over medium heat. Saute pepper and onion until the onion is translucent, then add garlic and spices and saute until garlic is slightly browned. Add drained tempeh and turn the heat to medium high. Cook for up to 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

– Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Apply a fine layer of olive oil to a large baking sheet.

– You should have two sheets of puff pastry. Cut each sheet into nine squares. You should have a total of eighteen rectangles.

– To assemble the pinwheel, take a rectangle and unfold it so that it is a single layer. Brush a little olive oil on the inside, then apply some of the tempeh filling. Gently roll up the dough around the filling. Whatever falls out can be stuffed back in once the edges are sealed. It does not have to look perfect, but the edge should be sealed with your fingers or a fork so that it does not fall apart while baking.

– Repeat steps until you have all eighteen filled or have run out of filling. Line the finished pastries on the baking sheet about an inch apart.

– Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pastries are puffed and golden. Serve warm.

(Recipe adapted from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

CSA #9: It’s Fun to Say ‘Frittata’

Because of the move and a whole world of personal business, we opted out of last week’s CSA package. One of the best aspects of subscribing to the Garfield Community Farm is that if you can’t make a pick up, all you have to do is let them know and they will donate your share to someone in the Garfield community that could use the fresh produce. So we didn’t have to waste anything and someone got to eat some delicious farm fresh vegetables. Feels like we really didn’t miss out on anything at all.

Still, I missed my weekly visit to the farm and was glad to head over there again this week, where apparently fortune smiled on our previous week’s action and delivered unto us a bounty upon which we had not yet experienced. Carrots, squash, peppers, onions, garlic, beautiful tomatoes, oh my! And making another appearance is the current star player of our weekly subscription, Swiss chard.

Swiss chard has many names – silverbeet, perpetual spinach, spinach beet, crab beet, bright lights, seakale beet, mangold – and even more uses. Because it shares a mild bitterness with kale and collards but cooks down easily like spinach, it’s one of the most useful greens to have in your kitchen. It works in salads and soups and pasta dishes. It can work for any meal time. It’s great raw,  it’s great cooked. Versatile and easy to work with, Swiss chard is also a looker. Its ruby-red stems can be cooked along with the leafy greens, so long as you snip off the really woody part toward the end.

And did I mention its nutritional properties yet? This green wonder is rich with Vitamins A, K,  and C, dietary fiber and minerals. Before the CSA, I used chard from time to time, but now it’s become a staple of my fridge. If and when I start my own garden next year, I plan on making it one of my major crops, if only so I can keep my personal supply robust and ever-present.

This week’s CSA round-up in photos:


Swiss chard, carrots


Green and purple beans, broccoli.


Tomatoes, summer squash


More tomatoes, beets, garlic, onions, Chinese eggplant

This week was so chard-centered that I made the following recipe (from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s indispensable cookbook Vegan Brunch) twice.


Swiss Chard Frittata

Ingredients
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
– 1 small onion, finely chopped
– 1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped well
– 1 tsp basil
– 1 tsp parsley
– 1 lb firm tofu
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tsp yellow mustard
– 1/4 tsp turmeric
– 1 & 1/4 tsp black pepper
– 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
– Salt to taste

– Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch pie plate.

– Saute the onions in the oil until slightly tender, about a two minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is golden brown. Add the chard, basil, and parsley and cook until the chard is completely soft.

– Crumble tofu into a separate bowl, then add soy sauce, mustard, turmeric, black pepper, and nutritional yeast. Mix well, then add the chard mixture. Toss until well combined.

– Firmly press tofu-chard mix into the pie plate. Bake for 20 minutes, until the frittata is firm and golden brown on top. Allow to cool before serving.

Anatomy of a Sandwich: To’ Boy


First off, apologies for the nearly week-long delay in posts. The past week was filled with moving boxes from Point A to Point B, then racing back to Point A to spend seven hours cleaning, then racing back to Point B to get enough unpacked so that I wouldn’t be living purely out of suitcases, then back to Point A to say goodbye to some very important people who are forgoing Point A and Point B and are, in fact, moving away from these Points completely. So of course, I had to return to Point B, my adopted home, to cry.

The traditional Po’ boy is very simple: A cut of baguette-like Louisiana French bread is layered with fried seafood or some kind of roasted meat. Lettuce, tomato, mayo, and possibly onions and pickles are added. Nothing crazy, right? It’s a sandwich like most sandwiches in that includes meat, toppings, and is sandwiched between preferably good quality bread. But like many sandwiches, it has earned a vaulted place among sandwiches. We have New Orleans to thank.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Po’ boy shops are the most basic of restaurants, the very simplest being a counter in which the sandwiches are wrapped and sold with little to no cooking done on the premises. Things progress from there, with the sandwiches being prepared and served in establishments of both low and high calibers. Once fancy restaurants started picking up the beloved dish, it was only a matter of time before it spread to other regions, only this time the trickle was downward, from high to low, instead of from counter and gas station upward. So it is with regional wonders: What is a significant part of one community is a novelty item in another community.

To me, you can’t have a Po’ boy without the pickles and the French bread, but when it comes to the meat filling, the options are a bit more open. When I was thinking of trying a vegan Po’ boy recipe, I considered several ideas for the filling, but I settled on tofu, as it takes to a fried cornmeal breading extremely well, while retaining a tender internal flakiness not unlike catfish. I took a few cues from Veganomicon‘s “Chile and Lime Cornmeal Crusted Tofu” but this was mostly riffing with the items I had on hand. I like my To’ Boy on the spicier side, but play around with the proportions of your spices so that you find a good balance for you.

Also, this sandwich ends up being a bit tall, so prepare your mouth for large bites.

To’ Boy

Ingredients
– 1 lb extra firm tofu, pressed and sliced width-wise in 1/2 inch strips
– 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
– 1 cup ground cornmeal
– 1 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp chili powder
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– 1/2 tsp black pepper
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 to 1 tsp lime juice
– Oil for frying
– Vegan mayo
– Sliced pickles – We used Klausen’s “Hearty Garlic” but any good sandwich pickle will do
– 1 baguette or hard loaf of French bread, cut into thirds, then halved
– Uncle Fester’s Hot Pepper Spread – Optional, but we used it as an added sauce on the sandwich and it worked great, not too hot, a little sweet. If you want something a bit more standard, opt for a simple tomato or marinara sauce.

Prepare the tofu
– In a wide, shallow bowl, mix cornmeal with baking powder, lime juice, and spices. Set aside.
– Dip each tofu slice into the non-dairy milk, then dredge through the cornmeal mixture, coating each side evenly. Coated pieces can be set aside.
– Fry your tofu until each side is golden brown. Allow fried tofu slices to cool and drain.

Assemble your To’ Boy
– On each third of baguette, slather one side with vegan mayo, then layer: Pickles on the bottom, tofu slices, sauce (if using). Add some lettuce for added green value. Close up your sandwich and enjoy!

(Tofu adapted from “Chile and Lime Cornmeal Crusted Tofu” from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

Conversatin’ Fridays: Mama, I’m Movin’ Out

After a quick three-day jaunt out of town, I am back in Pittsburgh to finish what I really started last week: Moving out of my lovely apartment in the loveliest lil’ borough of Dormont. I packed up the books (Eighteen boxes! Not counting the cookbooks!), then the movies, then the records, which  meant, of course, that I’d have to eventually get around to packing up my kitchen.

Which I’m still in the process of doing. I spent nearly all day in and out of the kitchen, wrapping up glasses and plates in newspaper, stuffing boxes full of random utensils, stripping off the worn and dingy shelf paper, finding the right box to hold all of my spices and baking accessories. In one little kitchen there seems to be so much that needs to be done. You have to wonder how it only took two years to pack this much intricacies into a room. It feels like there’s something in every corner.

Tomorrow movers come in to transport my beloved yellow kitchen table (known as “Goldie”) and chairs to its new home in Shadyside, where the affluent and intellectual will surely sense that I do not match the delicate inner workings of the neighborhood and reject me, sending me right back into the arms of the South Hills.

It’s not that I’m not looking forward to trying out Shadyside. I sort of lived in that area while in my undergraduate years at Chatham, but I always stuck to the Squirrel Hill side of the campus. I know of good places to go, but mostly specialty spots, places that I wouldn’t necessarily visit on a regular basis. I need the rundown on the staples.

While I attack the rest of my apartment, I ask you affluent, intellectual types out there: What is there to do in Shadyside? Best coffee shop? Best restaurant? Best place to grab a cheap lunch? Any suggestions?